Leaving a broken cycle

Teacher overcomes harsh past to succeed in life


Dawson Kelley

Holly Mooneyham helps a student in one of her freshman English classes. Mooneyham grew up in an abusive home and was eventually put into foster care, but she was able to overcome her past to become a successful teacher.

Story by Colton Johnson, feature editor

There was never silence in that house–in that family. There was commotion and noise that invaded any sort of privacy she was lucky enough to find. Privacy was rarity in that house. Peace was unheard of.

For freshman English teacher Holly Mooneyham, growing up in this house, there seemed to be no chance of escape. Anyone who found themselves entwined in her family tree seemed to get sucked into the cycle of drugs, alcohol and poor decisions.

“I am a sibling of 10, all of which belong to my dad. My dad was married seven times, and we all lived with him so it was a crowded lifestyle,” Mooneyham said. “My parents divorced when I was around 11 years old. My dad remarried my step mom right out of high school. She was 18 years old and he was 48 years old, and it was like having an older sibling because she was actually a classmate of my sister’s. My dad owned his own body shop and was self employed and my stepmother did not work, so it was just his income and many dependents.”

Mooneyham had grown somewhat accustomed to the dynamic of her dysfunctional family. However, when her new stepmother entered the picture, it seemed to throw what little peace they had into a whirlwind of chaos.

“She was the epitome of the evil stepmother because she was young, inexperienced and mean. She didn’t know what she was doing, and she was taking care of five other kids that weren’t hers,” Mooneyham said. “She had suicidal tendencies that made living with her unbearable. To try to keep the peace, my dad always sided with her. She always seemed to be right and could do no wrong.”

Mooneyham learned to tread carefully, walking on eggshells to try to keep the peace. But one fatal day, the cracks spider-webbed up the false sense of peace. It was the day that the arguing turned physical.

“I showed up at school with a busted blood vessel in my eye and a busted lip. The school called CPS and we were all taken away,” Mooneyham said. “We went to foster care, and I was there for nine months. We were all split up. I went to a very nice home, but adjusting to that was really scary at 13 years old. Even though I had a rough home life, I still wanted to go back home. My dad was my dad regardless of what happened. I didn’t get to choose my family, but I loved them.”

Once her parents had completed parenting classes, Mooneyham and her siblings returned home. While the atmosphere seemed to have improved, it was far from perfect. Mooneyham began looking for ways to escape her reality, and high school proved to be just what she needed in her life at that time.

“I joined basically every club I could. ROTC was my life for most of my high school career. They were my family and accepted me. It was an escape,” Mooneyham said. “I loved to read. Any way I could get away from the drama that was life–that was my family.”

Throughout high school, Mooneyham looked for ways to involve herself, and at 16, got her first job working at Whataburger. Obtaining this job gave her the means to finally escape her home life. She soon moved in with her manager, and after a few months, moved in with a friend, vowing never to move back in with her father.

“Eventually I moved in with my mom, who was then remarried to my stepfather. She couldn’t have asked for a better person in her life at that time. I believe she had found some happiness,” Mooneyham said. “He had a full time job and bought a house and the car that lasted me the longest time.”

It seemed that for once, Mooneyham had a sense of stability, a quick moment to sit back and breathe. At this point in her life, things were indeed looking up. However, this moment of bliss was extinguished almost as quickly as it had been kindled.

“He was diagnosed in November with stage four cancer and there was nothing they could really do about it. He died Dec. 18,” Mooneyham said. “At that point in time, he was all that held my mom together. It was my first death close to home.”

The death of her step dad seemingly sent her mother over the edge, and the sweet sense of stability she had experienced was quickly stolen from her grasp.

“My mother sold the house that my stepdad had pulled out his retirement to pay for,” Mooneyham said. “If I’m remembering correctly, she sold it for basically nothing. She said I needed to come get my stuff because we no longer lived there. I was in shock. I didn’t know where I was going to live. Right then and there, my future mother-in-law offered for me to move in with them even though it had only been two months since I had known them. They became the family I never had.”

Although she had found herself wrapped up in a world of chaos throughout high school, Mooneyham never lost sight of her goal to excel in her education and break the streak of drop outs in her family.

“I had three older siblings who had dropped out and I was determined not only to graduate, but to graduate with honors at the top of my class,” Mooneyham said. “I graduated number seven in my class with honors and had lots of scholarships. I worked hard because I knew that I didn’t want to be that. I wanted to be the complete opposite of my parents.”

Out of 11 children, only three, including Mooneyham, followed through with graduating excluding the youngest child who is still in grade school. Growing up, she had always understood the importance of education, and the teachers that surrounded her helped to instill these values in her heart at an early age.

“Teachers were there for me when I felt like I had nobody. They took me home. They fed me. They were my lifeline, so all I could think about was I want to be just like them. I wanted to be someone who could influence a student’s life, who was there when they needed to talk, who was there as some kind of safe haven or an escape,” Mooneyham said. “All I could think about with my brothers and sisters was, if they had had teachers like I had, would they have still stayed in school? Would they have found a different route and done something different with their lives? Teachers have no idea the difference they can make in a student’s life.”

Mooneyham took her situation and promised herself that she would overcome it rather than let it drag her down. She chose a different route and has continued to impact students’ lives as she always hoped she would. Instead of dwelling on the struggles of her past, she allowed it to enrich her soul so that she may help others.

“Most of my family chose the drug route, chose the alcohol, chose the life of not getting jobs and not providing for themselves. Sometimes I feel ashamed of my family, but then I think I might not be the person I am if it wasn’t for the circumstances we were in. It’s one of those juxtapositions in life. I am grateful, but I wish it could’ve been different,” Mooneyham said. “I am grateful that I had that life experience to bring into the classroom and to reach students on a different level. A lot of times students come in and they don’t realize that we are people too. We went through things that some of these students will never go through or have gone through similar experiences and we are here to help in any way shape or form.”

She and her siblings who chose to diverge from the path and make something out of their lives are proof that one can make the best out of an unfortunate situation.

“I have one brother in the Air Force and another brother who works at Red River. I have a little sister who attends Texarkana College,” Mooneyham said. “I’m proud of us for making our success and not following a broken cycle.”

She chose not to let her past define her. She made something of herself and acts as a ray of hope to any of her students who feel as if they are trapped in a situation they cannot overcome.

“This is life, and we make the best out of it. We don’t let it suck us under. You can make the best of a bad situation,” Mooneyham said. “Don’t let it burn you down, because that’s not what it’s about.”