She was awarded the 2018 Teacher of the Year at KISD’s Willow Springs Elementary School in her fourth year as a full-time teacher, but tonight Jennifer Boehmker, 28, will have another accomplishment of which to be proud: She’ll be earning a master’s degree in school psychology degree from Texas A&M University-Central Texas.
But, as special as that moment will be, there’s a reason why it will be even more memorable: Jennifer’s dad, Reese Davis, will be there, but not as another member of the family. Both father and daughter will don their graduation regalia, march in the processional to their seats, and receive their respective degrees moments apart from each other, separated only by the alphabetical sequence of their last names.
Boehmker, who graduated from Belton High School in 2009, began her educational journey immediately after graduating high school, enrolling in Temple College and later earning her undergraduate degree with a teacher’s certificate from A&M-Central Texas.
Her specific certificate and training allows her to teach any level of elementary school, from early childhood to sixth grade.
Married five years to Army Capt. David Boehmker, currently stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia, Jennifer remembers working her way through her education as a waitress at Applebee’s and a sales associate at JC Penney.
“It was worth every minute,” she said. “The teacher preparation program is truly spectacular. They start you out slowly, pair you with an individual child in a one-on-one setting, then, the more you learn and advance in the program, you are introduced to small groups with a student partner. Eventually, you’re doing your student teaching under a licensed teacher and then leading your own class.”
But it was there, she said, she sometimes heard things she didn’t want to hear as the little ones in her class would show signs of irritability, hunger or emotional distress.
She remembered one child who confessed to acting out, explaining that their family hadn’t eaten that day — or the day before. Another confessed to being tired because, the child said, they hadn’t slept because of constant arguments between the parents.
“They see everything,” she said soberly. “And they hear everything. They see violence in their homes, in their neighborhoods, and for some, that’s all they know. For others, they struggle with deployments, homelessness, hunger, and even abuse.”
This is why, she explains, that she decided to augment her undergraduate degree, teaching certificate, and by then, four years of experience, enrolling in the A&M-Central Texas School Counseling Program.
It had been a colleague at Willow Springs Elementary School, Yolanda Jones, also a school counselor, who took note of Jennifer’s potential and encouraged her to pursue the program.
Jennifer’s dad, Reese Davis, 55, laughs when he thinks about Jennifer’s deliberate approach to her degrees. Not out of disrespect, of course, but because, he says, he’s taken a more leisurely approach, cramming his four-year degree “into a mere 33 years.”
Davis has spent more than three decades in law enforcement, attending the Central Texas College Law Enforcement Academy, as well as six years on patrol, four training institutes including the FBI academy at Quantico, 16 years in the Criminal Investigation Division, a promotion to sergeant, lieutenant, and captain, finally holding the official police department rank of commander.
Davis discovered a love for the eclectic curriculum of the arts and sciences, especially the fine arts.
“The two best courses I took was a blues course and a course called, ‘The Artist on Film’ taught by Professor Ryan Bayless,” said Davis, who is earning an undergraduate degree.
“I needed elective hours,” he said, “so I went to see the advisor, Yvonne Immergoot, who helped me pick courses I had an interest in. I had always loved blues music and just loved that course.”
Along the way, he said, he discovered an appreciation for Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock, and Van Gogh. Hardly the curriculum he thought of when he majored in law enforcement, but Davis wouldn’t take back a single day.
He did, in fact, enjoy the courses in fine arts so much that he was eligible to declare his undergraduate degree in liberal studies with a focus in criminal justice and theater arts.
“We are all multi-faceted people, and in a lot of ways, we are what we do,” he said. “But we are often a lot of other things. I’ve always wanted to be an actor. I have a love for the theater and the arts. My classes at A&M-Central Texas allowed me to pursue that. It was the best of both worlds.”
Davis, husband to Kathy Davis, Killeen’s city attorney, and father to three children, will put on his cap and gown with his oldest daughter and bring 33 years of educational ambition to a close as he accepts his degree just moments after she receives hers.
“It’s perfect,” he said, smiling.