One of the proudest moments in Denise Sconiers’ life came when she graduated from Tallahassee Community College. She was one step closer to fulfilling a lifelong dream, which was buried deep, for years: that of becoming a teacher of children who have physical and mental challenges.
Graduation day in May 2011 was even sweeter because she and her daughter, LaKendra, earned their Associate of Arts degrees at the same time.
She said when she was very small, she recalled her father calling her “my little teacher.” She remembered, but as she grew older and poverty became the dominating force in her life, teaching became something that seemed unattainable.
“To a lot of people, I guess it looked easy. Every year during college graduations, you read about parents and children earning degrees together and how much fun they had doing it. It was difficult, but I never wanted to give up because (I) always talked to my children about the importance of education. I couldn’t tell them one thing and do another,” she said.
Sconiers is the first to admit her life took twists and turns, some of her own making, which would have made a lesser woman give up. Her life, she said, was never a bed of roses, but often laced with thorns from one day to the next.
“I was the seventh of nine children, and as a teenager I grew up in Jacks’ trailer Park before we moved to Gadsden Arms. Part of my responsibility was to take care of my younger brother and sister. My mother moved up north to take care of my brother and my father was a truck driver who was away a lot. I thought I was in love, and my first child was born when I was 15,” she said.
The love child was born with medical problems, as are many children born to teenage mothers. The child suffered from serious breathing problems and seizures. The first few months of her life were spent at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola. The doctors told Sconiers that child might not live, and she needed to be prepared.
“I was afraid for my child, but it was my job to take care of my younger sister and brother. At 15, I was really the mother of three,” she said.
Sconiers floated in and out of her days. She did what she had to do without much thought for the future. Education was the furthest thing from her mind as a teenager and mother with a sick infant on massive doses of Phenobarbital. Besides, she never really liked school even before she got pregnant and dropped out.
Fast-forward and she met and married the man who would give her love, security and the emotional support that had been missing for years. The couple had two children together, and she began to think about the future. The memory of her own hardships without an education were still fresh in her mind, and she desperately did not want that life for her own children. At every opportunity she stressed the importance of education to her little ones.
“I know they got tired of hearing about why they should get an education, because one day my daughter came home from school with a flyer. The flyer was all about her school (St. John Elementary ) offering GED classes for adults at night. She handed me the flyer and looked at me as if to say, ‘Well,’ so I took her challenge,” Sconiers said.
The GED led her to a better job as a paraprofessional in the Gadsden County School District. By then, she had been bitten by the education bug. Her appetite for learning became insatiable. Although no longer in the structured setting of a classroom, she read books, magazine articles and just about anything she felt would help her become a better role model for her children.
“It was important that they saw me reading. I couldn’t tell them what to do if I wasn’t willing to do it. I remember one night we were sitting around reading, the television was off and we started talking about goals. It was just one of those family night conversations that comes from no place in particular,” Sconiers said.
“We decided to set goals. First, we set short-term and then long-term goals, and how we were going to reach them. Those goals have now become our roadmaps,” she said.
At 44 years old, Sconiers plans to begin work on her bachelor’s degree in January.
“That’s a long-term goal that has turned into a short one with a four-year college on the horizon,” she said.