“I'll find a way, or make one.”
This is a motto Fairley High School alumna Corteona Standback lives by.
Growing up she saw family and friends attend college, only to drop out after their first year. Now in her third year at Clark Atlanta University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Atlanta Georgia, Standback is committed to forging a different path and becoming the first person in her family to earn a college degree. She declared, “Seeing their experiences has really pushed me and motivated me to keep going. I’m going to finish college.”
Shifting to a College-Going Culture
The Tennessee Department of Education invited Green Dot Public Schools to lead Fairley in 2014 after the school persistently appeared among the lowest 5% performing schools in Tennessee.
Standback was a sophomore at Fairley when Green Dot came, and she immediately felt the difference. College was suddenly at the forefront of every conversation, and a great emphasis was placed on helping students build a strong path to and through college. It was during this time that Standback became more involved on campus, participating in leadership opportunities and extracurriculars such as the National Honor Society and Fairley’s Marching “POWERSource” Band.
The year before Fairley joined the Green Dot family, 15% of Fairley students tested as proficient in English II assessments and no students tested proficient in Algebra II. After just one year under Green Dot’s leadership, 29% of students tested proficient in English II and 46% proficient in Algebra II. Suspension rates dropped significantly. These results were driven by the structural support systems that Green Dot implements in all of its schools and supplemented by curriculum tailored specifically towards Memphis students.
Confidence through Mentorship
Since 2014, each Fairley student has participated in a rigorous, college-prep-focused, academic program combined with small class sizes and multi-tiered support. It was through the support of Fairley teachers and staff that Standback was first introduced to Clark Atlanta.
“My mentor helped me get on the pathway to finding what I wanted to do. He helped me decide to go to Clark Atlanta,” said Standback. Her mentor, Cafabian Heard, a Fairley High School alumnus and former teacher, helped Standback embrace new ideas and opportunities, and provided her with support as she made strides towards achieving her academic goals.
As a result, Standback found that she possessed a newfound confidence. Her desire to attend Clark Atlanta kept her motivated during challenging times. She recalls how, “People would say ‘why are you going to school out-of-state, why pay more money.’”
Despite the criticism, her answer was always the same: "I want to get a different experience.” Mempis was home, but Standback yearned for something new. She knew attending Clark Atlanta would be a challenge that would help her determine her life’s direction.
FInd a way, or make one.
Today, Standback has no regrets. She believes that studying at Clark Atlanta has expanded her beliefs about what’s possible. She studies business, an area of study she had never previously considered. With a degree in business and the experience she'll gain, Standback knows that in the future, she will be equipped to pursue and achieve dreams that were once foreign to her.
“When I was in high school, I did not know what I wanted to do, or if I even wanted to go to college.”
Reflecting on her high school experience, she recognizes that Fairley prepared her for college in ways that her friends’ schools did not. Standback arrived at Clark Atlanta academically prepared for college level coursework and equipped with contextual readiness she needed to succeed as a first-gen college student hundreds of miles from home. Not only was she prepared for the rigor of college, she also possessed the confidence and skills to navigate the college system.
She admits that even with this level of preparation, college has been challenging. Yet, she hasn’t let challenges deter her because she realizes her potential.
“There were many moments I wanted to stop. When I did want to quit, I thought: no, I can't quit. I gotta find a way, or make one."
At Green Dot, we know the will to succeed lies within all students. Our educators are charged with removing the barriers to their success. Our schools in Tennessee help students face and overcome adversity so that every student can realize their potential.
When Standback thinks about graduating from Clark Atlanta she can’t help but smile. Once she earns her degree she’s eager to share her experiences with other Fairley students, in hopes of inspiring them to reach their goals.