Turning Neighbors Into Mentors

Karen Payne

“Once I started working with kids, it just became a passion for me. So, I stuck with it,” Karen Payne says excitedly.

In July 2016, Ms. Payne joined the Green Dot Public Schools family and is leading the After School Program as a Manager for Fairley High School in Memphis, Tennessee.

Fairley High School

Currently, Fairley offers traditional extracurricular programs, like sports, band, and drama club; academic enrichment opportunities, including APEX and tutoring; vocation and skills-based learning, like cosmetology, and cooking; as well as “real talk” sessions aimed at helping students deal with personal issues they may be facing. Ms. Payne and the entire Community Engagement team at Fairley actively solicit feedback from students, parents, and community members, always on the lookout for the next piece of the puzzle to serve students between 3 and 6 pm, that crucial window of time when young people are, statistically, most vulnerable.

In the few short months since starting at Fairley, Ms. Payne has already begun finding ways to enhance the existing student opportunities, while introducing new ones.

“The main idea for the after school program is to bring enrichment activities to the students that they do not receive during a traditional school day,” she explains, citing the desire to create an environment that balances fun, learning and support.

Setting the standard

Ms. Payne is a lifelong resident of Millington, Tennessee, “born and raised in the country,” as she puts it. After earning her degree in biology, she initially considered pursuing work in health sciences; however, a position teaching computer skills to elementary students in Tipton County opened her eyes to an unexpected calling to public education.

In her new role, Ms. Payne has taken the initiative to reach out to local business-owners and skilled trades professionals, inviting them into the school to share their knowledge through a series of ongoing community partnerships.

“Our goal is that each person who comes in and works with our students is not only bringing those different classes with them, but also becoming mentors and telling [students] about the things they can do with their lives.”

Fairley High School

Most importantly, Ms. Payne frames all present and future student activities in the context of goal-setting. Whether it is the drama club practicing for a performance or culinary students preparing to serve a formal meal for their families, Ms. Payne ardently believes “everything has to be goal-based” to teach students the value of perseverance and help them create patterns for long term success in college, leadership, and life.

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