May 08, 2012

Non-traditional student to realize her dream

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Kathryn Payne is a juggler extraordinaire.

Every minute matters for this Southern Illinois University Carbondale student, who balances seemingly countless obligations.  She is a single mom working two jobs while student teaching, helping coach her son’s sports teams, job-hunting and handling numerous other family and personal obligations. 

She’ll add one more title to her repertoire on Saturday, May 12.  That’s when she becomes a proud SIU Carbondale graduate, earning her bachelor’s degree in elementary/special education.  Her diploma includes middle school endorsements for social studies and language arts and a secondary endorsement for social sciences with designations in sociology, anthropology and history.

“As a teacher, it is so rewarding to see a student who has persevered and followed her dream achieve success,” said Francie Shafer, senior lecturer in curriculum and instruction.  “Kathryn is a single mom who works multiple jobs and goes to school and this semester she’s student teaching, too.  Yet she’s not only graduating but she’s earned a high enough GPA to be a recent inductee into the Delta Chi Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi, an international education honor society.  We all find it amazing how Kathryn manages to accomplish all that she does.  She is really an inspiration.”

It has been a long journey. Along the way, there were times Payne felt like all of those responsibilities and obligations were crashing down on her.  She lost her father in March 2010 and has dealt with various other crises.  But now, she’s excited to be looking for her first teaching job and said she’s grateful for the many ways SIU Carbondale has helped her fulfill her dream.

“Everyone here has bent over backwards to help a non-traditional student go to school and succeed,” Payne, of Carterville, said.

“The teachers and staff have always gone out of their way to help me.  When my father passed away and I had to go to Iowa, they understood that I had to go there and they worked with me.  Student Support Services has been so helpful, providing referrals and connecting me with resources, even assisting with printing and things like that.  One teacher really went above and beyond, even assisting me in searching for childcare for my son when my daycare provider quit,” Payne added.

The late Regina Foley, educational psychology and special education professor, played a significant role in Payne’s success too.  She helped Payne obtain crucial financial assistance for her schooling, encouraged her, and more.  Payne connected with Foley through Southernmost Grow Your Own, the downstate component of the statewide program that partners SIU Carbondale and Shawnee Community College with several area school districts. 

The goal of the program is increasing in Illinois the number of racially diverse teachers and the number of teachers willing to work at and remain in difficult-to-fill teaching posts in school districts that traditionally have difficulty retaining teachers.  There is an emphasis on training teachers for positions in special education, bilingual education, science and math. 

A native of Davenport, Iowa, Payne graduated high school in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.  It was the 29th school she had attended.  The family moved around a lot when she was a child and Payne said she spent a fair amount of time living in the inner city.  While attending high school, Payne worked as a daycare teacher and it was there that she found her calling.  She soon knew she wanted to be a teacher, a vocation that would allow her to continue learning and help others acquire knowledge and make discoveries about themselves and the world, she said.

With her background, Payne feels herself drawn to students facing their own challenges -- inner-city kids, children with behavioral issues, special education students. 

“I understand how these kids react, how they interact.  I want to see if I can help them the way other people have helped me,” Payne said.

Doing that requires a teaching degree though.  So, six months pregnant, Payne moved to Southern Illinois, closer to some of her family, “with two bags of clothes and $50 to my name.”  When her son, Kaydin Brown, was just 3 months old, Payne began taking classes at Shawnee Community College in January 2007.  Since then, she has always held at least two jobs and even three during summers while going to school and caring for her son.  Payne graduated from Shawnee in May 2009 and began classes at SIU Carbondale in August of that year.

For a while, she had a great babysitter to lend a hand.  After that arrangement ended, Payne’s mother, Sandra Lafferty, moved into Payne’s home, providing critical childcare and aid.  Payne has worked on campus in the sociology department, as a CNA and in a variety of jobs to support herself and her son since his birth.

The fall 2011 semester was particularly traumatic for Payne.  While taking about 20 credit hours of classes and working two jobs, a number of problems appeared on her horizon.  She had to make a quick trip to Florida to help a friend in need, and provided support to relatives facing cancer challenges.

“Every single month there was something else bad that happened,” Payne recalls. 

“Even with everything going on, I’ve managed to maintain my GPA,” Payne said proudly.

She currently works at a restaurant in Marion and at a convenience store near the Williamson County Regional Airport.  This semester, she also has been doing her student teaching in the Goreville school district in fifth grade and special education classrooms.  She’s also an assistant coach for her son’s soccer and T-ball teams.

As Payne gets her now 5-year-old son ready for kindergarten this fall, she hopes she’ll also be readying her first classroom as a teacher.  She would love to teach special education or upper grades in a lower-income school district, ideally in Southern Illinois, as she has grown quite fond of the area and its people.  Regardless of where her dream takes her, she is anxious to help children just as some very special teachers and people have helped her along the way.

“I can’t wait to be a teacher!” she says with obvious enthusiasm.