Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Catherine Hodge welcomes students in her office with snacks, water, classical music and a smile. But don’t let that fool you. “Hodge,” as they call her, has high expectations for students. The 63-year-old student liaison and parent instructor at W.T. White High School has worked at the school since 1996, when her son was a senior there. She lives on Northview, blocks from the campus, and has three children and six grandchildren. A graduate of Bishop Dunne High School, she studied art at the University of Texas at Arlington.

How did you get your start at W.T. White?
I was up here a lot volunteering, and the principal, Gene Ward, said, “Look, you’re up here all the time. Why don’t you just come work here? We’ll find something for you to do.” I started in the library. I helped with testing. I was the cheerleading coach for 10 years. I got involved with student council. Then I went back to college. This is my third year back.

How would you describe your job?
It’s the best of both worlds. I help parents, students, teachers and staff. I can be as hard as I need to be on these kids. I expect a lot from them, and they rise to the occasion. The students feel comfortable enough to talk to me, but I can still guide them and say, “The last time I checked, you’re not 21. Don’t push it.”

What’s a typical day for you?
Golly, we take the senior panoramic photo tomorrow. I’m working on the contracts for prom. I’m helping the nurse get bins for our food pantry, where students can go if they need food, book bags or clothing. We’re meeting with The Grove Church and the Gateway Church to see how they can help us. I’m lining up meals for next week’s teacher appreciation lunch. And I need to get my newsletter done.

Why do the students come see you?
They need somebody to talk to, or they just come in to sit and veg. They say, “Miss Hodge, I’m in trouble.” We talk about it, and then they go home and talk to their parents. I’m a sounding board. I say, “Guys, you need to have a plan. You need to have a six-month plan, a year-long plan and a plan for five years from now.” They just look at me. I say, “If you don’t have plans, then you have no insurance. You have nothing to fall back on.” That’s my job.

What are some of the problems you’re seeing?
These kids are having to grow up so much faster than we did. They leave school every day and go to work. It’s almost like they have full-time jobs. These students are supporting their families. I am in awe of them.

Why do some students think you’re tough?
I taught my cheerleaders that when they were late, they had to do pushups. They had to do 10 pushups for every late minute. They said, “What?!” I said, “Well, she’s late. You’re a team. We’re all going down on the floor.” Things started changing. They got stronger, and they would check on each other. When we had a parent meeting, they said, “Mom, we cannot be late. Hodge will make us do pushups.” Some of those girls still keep up with me. In fact, I saw some of them at a wedding last weekend. They told Hodge stories. I said, “OK, we’re past that now.”

What’s the most challenging thing you’ve had to face?
Watching the kids who don’t have a place to live or are being abused. You would never know it. We were given a list of kids to check on because they hadn’t been coming to school. On the first visit, we went to an apartment. When they opened the door, there were two double beds on one side of the living room and a single bed on the other. Further down the hall were more beds. I’ll never get that out of my head. The father was so kind and worried about why his daughter hadn’t been going to school. He said that she had been working a lot to help pay for the apartment because he didn’t have work. Those silent calls for help … you just hope that you’re there to pick them up. I go home and cry. I think that’s the one reason why I keep staying. I can’t decide whether to retire or not. Then you come back to school the next day. You smile and give them an extra hug.

How do you feel at graduation every year?
I’m not a teary girl. Every now and then, I think, “God, I’m going to miss those kids.” You wonder how they’re doing. There was one young man, years ago, who was living in a storage unit. We got the family blow-up mattresses. His mom had been addicted to drugs. She got straight. They got housing. Then we got to go pick him up there. He showed me the house. His mom was so proud. He got a scholarship to college. That’s the kind of kid I wonder about.

How do you deal with the stress?
I paint. I don’t care for a lot of my paintings because there’s so much hostility behind them. Red is my outlet color.

Do students keep in touch?
Oh my gosh, yes. It’s nice when I see the parents, and they say, “This is what you instilled in my child.” And I say, “Yes, but this is what they instilled in me.”

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