On many school nights, after working shifts at Taco Bueno or Banana Republic, Joshua Reddick studied in the only quiet space he could find — a dimly lit motel bathroom.
Because his family is poor — his mom was deported to Mexico 11 years ago — and struggles to get by day-to-day, he has spent many nights in motels or on his friends’ couches.
Some people call this homelessness, but Reddick calls it his private “situation.”
“I feel like we have been poor our whole lives, but I used to not feel like that because I was young and not focused on any of that,” Reddick said.
Instead he was focused on getting an education and using it as a gateway to a new life.
“I can study math. I can study science and history,” Reddick said.
A senior at Haltom High School, he’ll walk across the stage Sunday at the Fort Worth Convention Center to receive his diploma, with honors. His is graduating in the top quarter of his class with a 4.0 grade point average. He plans to attend Austin Community College with the hopes of transferring to the University of Texas at Austin.
“I have no fallback,” Reddick, 18, said. “I have no safety net.”
Reddick works about 30 hours a week. He studies late into the nights inspired largely by the wonders of space and dreams of becoming an astronaut. Reddick filled his schedules with advanced classes, pushed himself and regularly wore a NASA T-shirt for inspiration.
He works tirelessly, but gives much credit to educators who became a second family to him.
Birdville school district officials say Reddick is among 407 homeless students in the district, including 48 at Haltom High.
“We believe our school has a family feel and when things occur, we band together to help one another — be it a student or a faculty member,” said David Hamilton, principal at Haltom High, where the motto is “Haltom has Heart.”
“Josh embodies ‘Haltom has Heart,’ ” Hamilton said. “He has had courage through difficulty and done so with an enthusiastic outlook. His positivity and perseverance are a testament to the ‘heart’ that he has.”
“I feel accomplished,” Reddick said. “I’m excited to graduate, but that is just a benchmark, that is not where I am going to settle all of my victories at, because I feel like I have gone through too much to feel like this is a victory. I feel like it is just a checkpoint in where I want to get.”
‘Tears of joy’
Homeless children have a right to a free, public education. The McKinney-Vento Act describes homeless youths as students who don’t have a “fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” That means students who stay with someone else when they lose housing, live in motels or hotels — even camp in parks — because they don’t have anywhere else to stay.
Hamilton said that although homeless students make up a small portion of the Haltom High population, their plight is a growing national issue. At Haltom, about 67 percent of students are economically disadvantaged and many students have to work one or more jobs while attending classes, Hamilton said.
“There have been many tears of joy shed over student success at graduation — the staff knows what the students did to get there, and it was not only attending classes and earning grades,” Hamilton said.
Teachers said students are often coping with personal and pocketbook problems. Sometimes, those personal issues surface with lack of school attendance. Students struggle as their parents juggle jobs, bills or threats of evictions. Sometimes, youngsters are hungry.
Haltom educators have responded to student needs by raising funds to pay for scholarships and computers. They have also helped collect food for Thanksgiving baskets and purchased Crock-Pots for students who live in motels.
“Many students who face difficult challenges at home would rather get involved in after-school activities and groups to avoid going home,” said Lesli Bradley, an Advanced Placement English teacher at Haltom.
Bradley said many teachers stay late because they understand that the connections built through these organizations empower students.
“We have to step in as parents to help provide the resources and knowledge to help students escape their bad situation,” Bradley said.
‘I want stability’
Reddick, who was born in Puerto Vallarta to a Mexican mother and an American father, said he’s lived in almost every motel in the Haltom City area.
“I have been evicted more times than I can count — not out of houses, but out of hotels,” said Reddick. He declined to name his family members because he worries they will be stigmatized.
Reddick, who has dual Mexican and U.S. citizenships, lived in Puerto Vallarta until he was 6 years old. His family moved to Hurst briefly, and then to upstate New York, where his father was raised. In a small town, his father mined coal, and Reddick said he experienced his most stable time as a child. Then, his mother was deported.
“I didn’t know what was going on because I didn’t know what immigration was,” Reddick said. “They would go to court a lot. I would say, ‘What’s going on?’ They would say, ‘Nothing.’ ”
Reddick said he was too young to understand what was happening and thinks of deportation as a bureaucratic process. He told himself she would be gone for a month, but it’s been about 11 years since she was deported, he said.
“After a couple of years, you just get out of that phase and you just start to accept reality,” he said, adding that he keeps in touch with her via social media and plans to visit her in Mexico City.
When Reddick was in fourth grade, his father and two siblings moved back to Texas to stay with family friends in White Settlement. Reddick said his father moved for work opportunities. By fifth grade, the family rented a small house in White Settlement.
But they couldn’t keep up with the rent and began moving from hotel to hotel, Reddick said.
“I don’t care about money or wealth. I just want a family. I want to feel a safety net again,” he said. “I want stability.”
‘He believes in America’
As graduation approached, Reddick said he has been blessed by friendships.
“The hardest thing for me was accepting that what everyone says doesn’t matter and to not lose myself trying to fit in with everyone else,” Reddick said. “That was the hardest thing for me, especially because I would go to school with the same clothes I had been wearing for about a week. I couldn’t afford anything else. It hindered me from making friendships with people because I was too embarrassed.”
Faith Ayala, Reddick’s Advanced Placement U.S. history teacher, said he isn’t one to talk about his problems and wouldn’t initially accept help. She said once when she extended help, he responded: “No, this is my responsibility. This is my family.”
In time, Reddick opened up to his teachers and friends, Ayala said.
“What I love is that he is not bitter,” Ayala said. “He still believes in opportunity. He believes in America and working hard — that if you work hard you will be successful.”
Kevin Woods, a longtime friend, said he’s proud of Reddick.
“Anybody who is really determined to overcome obstacles can and will,” Woods said.
Reddick said he is “extremely grateful” for the support he has received.
Though he spent much of his four years in and out of motels, this spring semester Reddick has been staying with Donna and Jeff Russell’s family in North Richland Hills. The educators are the parents of Reddick’s friend, Jacob Russell, and they hope to attend UT together.
Donna Russell said they have emphasized to Reddick that it is OK to get help and told him: “We will always be a part of your life if you want us to be.”
The Russell family has been helping Reddick navigate his senior year, which includes helping him to get a driver’s license, apply for colleges and scholarships and visit campuses. In 2016, Reddick visited Space Center Houston with the Russell family. The trip was inspirational for Reddick, who has owned as many as six NASA T-shirts at one time.
“He has a great mind,” Jeff Russell said. “He has a lot of heart — a lot of ambition.”
High school graduations 2017
Saturday, May 27
Castleberry High School, 7 p.m., W. G. Thomas Coliseum in Haltom City
Central High School, Noon, UTA College Park Center in Arlington
Fossil Ridge High School, 4 p.m., UTA College Park Center in Arlington
Keller High School, 8 p.m., UTA College Park Center in Arlington
L.D. Bell High School, 2 p.m., Fort Worth Convention Center
Timber Creek High School, 8 a.m., UTA College Park Center in Arlington
Trinity High School, 10 a.m., Fort Worth Convention Center
Sunday, May 28
Birdville High School, 4 p.m., Fort Worth Convention Center
Haltom High School, 7:30 p.m., Fort Worth Convention Center
Richland High School, 12:30 p.m., Fort Worth Convention Center
Tuesday, May 30
Byron Nelson High School, 3 p.m., UNT Coliseum
Northwest High School, 7 p.m., UNT Coliseum
North Crowley High School, 7 p.m., Fort Worth Convention Center
Wednesday, May 31
Crowley High School, 7 p.m., Fort Worth Convention Center
Thursday, June 1
Brewer High School, 7 p.m., Fort Worth Convention Center
Colleyville Heritage High School, 3:30 p.m., UTA College Park Center in Arlington
Grapevine High School, 7:30 p.m., UTA College Park Center in Arlington
Friday, June 2
Carroll Senior High School, 7:30 p.m., Dragon Stadium
Eastern Hills High School, 7 p.m., Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center
Everman High School, 7 p.m., Fort Worth Convention Center
Frontier High School, 7 p.m., MISD Center for the Performing Arts
Lake Ridge High School, 9:30 a.m., MISD Center for the Performing Arts
Mansfield High School, 2:30 p.m., MISD Center for the Performing Arts
Martin High School, 7 p.m., UTA College Park Center in Arlington
Paschal High School, 7 p.m., Ed & Rae Schollmaier Arena (TCU)
Success High School, 8 p.m., Trimble Technical Auditorium
Saturday, June 3
Arlington High School, 12:30 p.m., UTA College Park Center in Arlington
Bowie High School, 4 p.m., UTA College Park Center in Arlington
Carter-Riverside High School, 10 a.m., Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center
Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School, 8 p.m., Will Rogers Auditorium
Dunbar High School, 8 p.m., Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center
Kenndale High School, 6 p.m., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Fort Worth
Legacy High School, 9:30 a.m., MISD Center for the Performing Arts
Polytechnic High School, 3 p.m., Will Rogers Auditorium
Seguin High School, 8 p.m., UTA College Park Center in Arlington
South Hills High School, 11 a.m., Ed & Rae Schollmaier Arena (TCU)
Summit High School, 2 p.m., MISD Center for the Performing Arts
Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences, 10 a.m., Will Rogers Auditorium
Trimble Technical High School, 6 p.m., Ed & Rae Schollmaier Arena (TCU)
Timberview High School, 7 p.m., MISD Center for the Performing Arts
Western Hills High School, 3 p.m., Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center
Weatherford High School, 7 p.m., Fort Worth Convention Center
Sunday, June 4
Aledo High School, 5 p.m., MISD Center for the Performing Arts Center
Arlington Heights High School, 6 p.m., Ed & Rae Schollmaier Arena (TCU)
Boswell High School, 1 p.m., Fort Worth Convention Center
Chisholm Trail High School, 4:40 p.m., Fort Worth Convention Center
Lamar High School, 5 p.m., UTA College Park Center in Arlington
Marine Creek Collegiate, 6 p.m., Will Rogers Auditorium
North Side High School, Noon, Ed & Rae Schollmaier Arena (TCU)
O.D. Wyatt High School, 6 p.m., Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center
Saginaw High School, 8 p.m., Fort Worth Convention Center
Sam Houston, 1 p.m., UTA College Park Center in Arlington
Southwest High School, 1 p.m., Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center
Young Women’s Leadership Academy, 1 p.m., Will Rogers Auditorium
Monday, June 5
Centennial High School, 7 p.m., Ed & Rae Schollmaier Arena (TCU)
Tuesday, June 6
Burleson High School, 7 p.m., Ed & Rae Schollmaier Arena (TCU)