Fort Worth's old Masonic Home has new generation of students

The spirit of the Mighty Mites rose again Thursday in Fort Worth, this time not as an "orphans' home" but as one of Texas' newest public schools.

For more than a century from 1899 to 2005, Texas Masons and their fraternal lodges embraced children at the old Masonic Home & School, known for the Depression-era football powerhouse Mighty Mites.

Now, 550 children study there at new primary and middle schools in a Dallas-based charter system.

"These children are here for a better environment, education and opportunity, just like we were," said Arthur Calcaterra, a 1996 graduate visiting the new Uplift Mighty Prep, one of two Fort Worth schools opened this fall by Uplift Education.

Fort Worth advisory board Chairman George P. Bush couldn't make the reception. But Uplift's chief executive, former management consultant Yasmin Bhatia of Dallas, told Masonic Home alumni she hopes to "bring back the pride and make your story part of our school."

If you haven't heard, Uplift is the new public school system in town.

The renovated, $2 million-plus Uplift Mighty opened in August in school buildings behind what is now the ACH Child and Family Services agency, both sharing the former Masonic Home property.

Uplift Mighty offers kindergarten through second grades and also sixth and seventh grades, serving mostly children from Polytechnic Heights, Rolling Hills and Forest Hill. A second Uplift school, Meridian, opened in a former RadioShack service center on South Beach Street.

Most of Uplift's schools are rated "exemplary." The system is considered to be on the leading edge of public education reform.

Led by board President Kevin Bryant of Crow Holdings in Dallas, trustees want to double enrollment to about 15,000 with new schools in Fort Worth and Arlington.

Among the guests Thursday was the author who brought the Mighty Mites' story to a new generation, bestselling sports novelist Jim Dent of Allen ( Twelve Mighty Orphans).

One of the leading characters in Orphans is former Masonic Home and San Francisco 49ers linebacker Hardy Brown.

Dent retold the story of Brown's comment to the late NFL Films co-founder, Steve Sabol.

Sabol asked Brown, "How did you get so tough?"

Brown's reply: "At the Home."

"He said he'd never met anybody tougher," Dent said. "That's the legend of this place."

It's still Mighty.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538

Twitter: @budkennedy