For homeless teen, high school became family that opened path to TCU

Noemi Barrios Ramirez’s connection to Fort Worth’s Trimble Tech High School runs so deep it was not a place she was willing to leave even if it meant making early morning commutes across North Texas because her family had no permanent home.

Trimble Tech became her extended family when she broke ties with her mother — a decision that left her homeless in high school. There, academics and sports were a welcomed emotional escape from her problems.

“I loved the school. I loved sports. It was not something that I was willing to sacrifice because I felt I had already sacrificed too much,” the 18-year-old said.

After guarding these connections dearly for four years, Noemi is making the bittersweet break that comes with graduation. On June 1, Noemi will be among some 400 seniors participating in a commencement ceremony at Texas Christian University’s Ed & Rae Schollmaier Arena.

Noemi graduates in the top 2% of Trimble Tech’s Class of 2019. She’s ranked seventh out of 417 students with a grade point average of 4.38. She leaves high school with honors and scholarships, including a $5,000 scholarship from the Optimist Club of Fort Worth and a $1,000 scholarship from the University Christian Church. She has about $40,000 in grants from TCU, where she plans to major in nursing.

Noemi celebrates academic triumphs with an aunt who gave her shelter, cousins, teachers, counselors, students and classmates.

“We always call ourselves a family here at Trimble Tech,” said Ann Wood, who taught Noemi digital media. “If somebody needs help, we do try to get help for them.”

The days leading up to graduation moved fast with anticipated celebrations turning quickly into memories. On Friday, Noemi took part in “Senior Week,” which included awards, presentations, senior portraits and a senior walk throughout the halls of Trimble Tech.

“I just want to enjoy it,” Noemi said. “It’s kind of sad to be graduating, but then it is just the beginning. It’s seems like the end, but it is not. It starts another journey.”

Overcoming personal problems

Noemi was born in Los Angeles. She is the daughter of Mexican immigrants whose academics ended in middle school. When she was about 3, she moved to Texas with her parents and an older brother.

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Noemi Barrios Ramirez, 18, is graduating in the top 2% of her class at Trimble Tech High School. She said she overcame homelessness to find academic success. On Friday, she participated in senior day. She is seventh in her class and plans to pursue a nursing degree at TCU. Yffy Yossifor

“California is expensive and my dad — at the time — he was in a motorcycle accident,” Noemi said. “It was pretty hard on my mom, financially with two kids.”

Texas promised the opportunity to stretch family dollars.

But life grew difficult for Noemi as she grew up in east Fort Worth. Her father drank too much and her mother was working all the time.

“It was rough. My dad was an alcoholic. My dad, the majority of the time, he was drunk and abusive toward me and my brother,” she said. “My mom was never really around because she was the one working the majority of the time.”

When Noemi was about 13, her father was deported. She hasn’t talked to her father since then.

“It is just something I carried quietly,” she said, explaining that her family’s bonds were long frayed.

Noemi’s schooling included attending three elementary schools, Maude Logan, East Handley and West Handley. She attended McClung Middle School, where she played soccer. When it came time to attend high school, she decided to go Trimble Tech close to downtown Fort Worth.

Trimble Tech is a centrally located campus within the Fort Worth school district that offers career and technical courses. Students living throughout the district can apply to attend a variety of programs offered at the campus.

“The area that we lived in Fort Worth — it is not best,” Noemi said. “It doesn’t have much around it, so I wanted to get away from that and challenge myself. I wanted to challenge myself academically and also in sports. I knew Trimble Tech was one of the top schools in Fort Worth.”

Noemi said at Trimble Tech she could take many challenging classes while also learning cosmetology, which is her hobby.

In Noemi’s sophomore year, her home situation changed again. Her brother moved out. After some financial issues, Noemi and her mother found themselves without a permanent home.

For a while, mother and daughter ended up staying in North Dallas and Irving. During that time, Noemi woke up at 4 a.m. on school days so she could continue to attend classes at Trimble Tech. Her mother would drop her off at an aunt’s house so she could take a school bus.

“It was hard to manage because I have soccer after school,” she said, explaining that practice didn’t end until 5 or 6 p.m. She would get back to Dallas late in the evening. If she was scheduled to work, she went to work. That meant she would have do to homework late into the night.

“Sometimes, there were just sleepless nights,” Noemi said.

Noemi relied on coffee or snacks to stay awake at school. She would also sit at the front of her classes to force herself to pay attention. She got used to the challenges, but sometimes she asked herself: “If you haven’t slept, how are you going to run?”

Searching for life success

Noemi’s relationship with her mother broke down so much that she ended up moving in with a friend in Fort Worth. After that, she stayed with an aunt who was raising six sons in a small house. When that didn’t work out, she moved in with another aunt.

“There’s like eight of us,” Noemi said, explaining that her aunt and uncle have several daughters including a cousin who is graduating with her on June 1.

Noemi juggled her adult worries with school, soccer and work at a fast food restaurant. Sometimes, while lying in bed, she would question her situation, but she pushed past negative thoughts.

“I had to accept that’s life,” Noemi said. “We all have different paths. For some, it is harder than others. I would always question it, and one day I just realized that I am just wasting my time feeling sorry for myself instead of actually doing something about it.”

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Noemi Barrios Ramirez, 18, said her Trimble Tech family helped her find academic success even as she struggled with homelessness. She is pictured her with teacher Ann Wood. Ann Wood Courtesy

Delaney Clark, a member of TCU’s College and Advising Corps, helped Noemi apply for TCU and financial aid at Trimble Tech’s Go Center. The center offers support for students searching for college opportunities. Clark said Noemi spent many hours researching colleges at the center.

Clark said Noemi’s hard work is inspiring. Her academic successes meant she could have been admitted to any public Texas college.

“There are a lot of students whose stories will touch you and a lot of students who are really inspiring in a lot of different ways,” Clark said. “I think Noemi’s story is kind of unique. ... She has gone through a lot with her family and experienced things that no person, let alone a kid that young, should have to go through.”

Principal Omar Ramos said some students face adversity and meet it head on as they search for school success. He said Noemi puts the spotlight on a side of education that is often only seen by teachers.

Ramos said Noemi also helps break people’s misconceptions about young people.

“They don’t know these kids. They don’t know these stories,” Ramos said.

Headed to TCU

When Noemi filled out the application for the Scholastics Sportsmanship and Athletics scholarship, or SSA, offered by the Optimist Club of Fort Worth, she was already considered a winner by the group because she was nominated for the contest.

The club offers scholarships to students at Fort Worth high schools who excel in school and sports. Noemi’s application touched on her grades and class ranking — details she doesn’t like to brag about. It also discussed how as captain of the soccer team she encouraged teammates in 2018 when the school moved from a Class 5A to a 6A district, a higher competition level.

“My team was discouraged by the news,” Noemi wrote. “My team was frightened that moving up to a more challenging district would cause us to break our 10-year streak of going to playoffs. Although we did not make it to playoffs this year, with the help of our coaches, myself and other team leaders, we motivated my underclassmen teammates to come back next year for more 6A challenges.”

Noemi’s story touched Richard Fahy, the Optimist Club’s liaison for Trimble Tech.

“She stood out for me because she seemed very mature,” Fahy said. “Her story was important. She had overcome so much being homeless.”

Wood, who taught Noemi web technologies, said she is a motivated, hardworking, friendly student.

“You don’t even see her having a bad day. If she has one, you don’t see it on her face,” Wood said.

Next fall, Noemi won’t be too far from her Trimble Tech family. She will attend classes at TCU less than five miles from her high school. She will commute to classes from her aunt’s house.

“I did my research and they have one of the best nursing programs in Texas,” Noemi said.

“It’s familiar. It’s close to home. It just feels right,” she said.

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Diane Smith, a graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 1997. Smith, who has covered municipal government, immigration and education, has won multiple awards for reporting, most recently as part of a Star-Telegram team recognized by the Headliners Foundation of Texas for coverage of child abuse and Fort Worth’s Las Vegas Trail area.