Retired attorney pursues family literacy with certificate through World Campus

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — After 20 years as a publishing lawyer, Janette Payne of Long Island, N.Y., is now pursuing her long-standing interest in literacy and adult basic education. During her years as a practicing attorney, her work schedule and family responsibilities did not afford her time to pursue tutoring adults. However, once she retired from legal practice, the Penn State World Campus Family Literacy Certificate Program allowed her to continue her education while being available to her children.

Payne’s childhood fostered much of her love for literacy. She grew up in a distressed urban area in Brooklyn with her mom, a clerk for the New York City Board of Education, and her dad, a New York City employee and a civic leader engaged in numerous community organizations.

“Through my own experiences, I know that literacy can empower positive change in the trajectory of a person’s life,” Payne said. “As an only child, I spent countless hours immersed in books. They exposed me to new places and information, powered my imagination, and bolstered my comprehension and communication. They served as an underpinning to an education that I believe provided me with extraordinary opportunities and choices that I might not otherwise have had.”

Payne said as a child, she accompanied her father to night classes at Brooklyn College where he ultimately received his bachelor of arts degree in his mid-50s. She also attended board meetings with him for Metropolitan College of New York.

“The mission of the college was to help adult, nontraditional students obtain degrees through progressive programs that gave credit for work experience as well as academic work,” Payne said. “Perhaps inspired by his model, I had always wanted to become an adult literacy tutor. He also showed me that it’s never too late to continue learning.”

After graduating from Princeton, she initially planned on attending graduate school to become an English professor, but she decided to study law instead. Even as a lawyer, reading and writing were still at the core of her work. During her years as a corporate attorney representing prominent media organizations, she combined law with her love of reading, writing and books.

When Payne left her job to stay at home with her children in 2004, she finally had the opportunity to begin her career in adult literacy. She volunteered as an English for Speakers of Other Languages and basic literacy tutor at Literacy Suffolk, an accredited affiliate of ProLiteracy that improves individual adult literacy skills through trained volunteers. She later became the volunteer program coordinator.

She now works at Nassau Community College in the Basic Education Program developing and implementing lesson plans for a diverse student population consisting of high school graduates, adult learners, students with disabilities and students whose first language is not English.

Payne recognized she would need to learn more about adult education in her position at Nassau Community College, so she applied to Penn State’s World Campus Adult Education Program where she discovered the Family Literacy elective.

“I felt an immediate resonance between my interests, the work I was doing at the college, and the literacy course materials,” Payne said. “Although I had not initially set out to earn the certificate, I realized that it provided a theoretical and practical knowledge base to my work at Nassau Community,” Payne said.

In addition to her work at the college, Payne hopes to volunteer with local family literacy providers or utilize her legal training in the advancement of family literacy organizations.

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Last Updated July 16, 2014