Kellie Blair Hardt

Kellie Blair Hardt’s six-year-old daughter wants to be a science teacher when she grows up.  It’s an aspiration that could not have occurred to Hardt when she was her daughter’s age, sleeping on a park bench with an alcoholic father and living on food stamps.

Now she uses these experiences from her past to help kids learn and become enthusiastic about education.  She shared her story with KET’s “Dropping Back In” series. You can view the series online at droppingbackin.org.

Hardt and her twin brother were born in Washington D.C.  They were separated from their mother when they were two and left under the care of a father who struggled with his own addiction. They were often homeless.

“We just couldn’t seem to get stability in our lives,” said Hardt.

Education was the least of her priorities, as she was more concerned about where her next meal would be coming from.  Several suspensions and eventual expulsions later, she remembers thinking, “This is not me.”

After dropping out of high school altogether, she eventually went to Job Corps, where, for once, she had a roof over her head and steady meals.

“That was the time I was able to think past day-to-day living and surviving,” said Hardt. It was also when she discovered that she had a knack for writing and stories began to flow.

“That was the first time I felt important in the aspects of education,” said Hardt.

She began employment at a local retail store, where a co-worker noticed her keen eye for art and encouraged her to take an art class at a community college.

She thought there was no way she’d accomplish much, given her past hardships with education, but the coworker drove her down to Northern Virginia Community College where they both signed up for an art class.  Her educational career quickly accelerated from there.

Hardt eventually earned a full scholarship to Virginia Tech, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. With this degree, she began teaching kids not unlike herself at their age.

“When I started teaching alternative education I realized I had something here,” said Hardt, “that I could motivate a lot more students than I thought.”

She did this by talking with them about all of the things she had been through. Kellie’s storytelling carried a weight of authority. She knew what it was like to be hungry, to have an alcoholic parent, to live on food stamps and to go to church to have her next meal.

In 2013, she was one of five teachers nationwide to be awarded the National Education Association’s Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence.

She is excited for her daughter, who will never know how it feels to struggle.

“Every night I tell her that I love her and that I’m here,” said Hardt, something she tries to show her students every day as well.

Kellie Hardt is currently pursuing a PhD in Higher Education.

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