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'I get paid in love': Culbreth Middle assistant librarian celebrates 36th year at the school

Kaye Martinez, librarian at Culbreth Middle School, poses for a picture in Culbreth's library on Sept. 2, 2022. This year will be Martinez's 36th at the school.

Kaye Martinez, the assistant librarian at Culbreth Middle School, just began her 36th year in the position.

Over the years, she said she has worked with over 34,000 students and enjoyed watching them grow up.

Martinez said she did not plan on staying in her position for over three decades. But, looking back at her career, she said she could not ask for a better job.

“This is the most enjoying, wonderful job I’ve ever been in,” she said.

Martinez is in charge of handling any checkouts, cataloging and repairs for the library. She also helps fix broken shoes, backpacks and glasses for students.

Outside of helping students find books, Martinez also welcomes them to talk to her about anything they need, promising to keep any non-harmful secrets safe.

“If you give a kid a chance and you respect that child and you listen to a child, that will be the best gift you could ever give them,” she said.

Because of the relationships she has built with students, Martinez said they recognize her long after they have moved on from Culbreth.

To bond with students who do not like reading books, Martinez said she will often tell them that, when she was in junior high, she was not a fan of reading either.

Martinez said she assures students that she will help them discover a book that they love before they leave the library.

To find out what interests individual students, Martinez requires them to read 30 pages of a fiction book or 15 pages of a non-fiction book. If, after this, they realize they don’t enjoy the book, she tells them to check it back in and try again until they can find something they enjoy.

Martinez said that she sees herself as a mother to the students, and has had some of them tell her that she has saved their lives.

Stephanie Steele, the librarian at Culbreth Middle School, said Martinez works to provide a safe and welcoming environment for all students. Steele said that Martinez is an ally for the LGBTQ+ community in the school, and will always help students to feel welcome, no matter what.

“She sees the students as individuals and as people, where I don’t think they sometimes get that as much,” Steele said.

Martinez’s loving and caring personality is one of the things that Steele said she first noticed when she came to the school.

Steele said that Martinez notices the little things about people. For example, because she knows the assistant principal likes mints, she will always offer them to her. She also makes sure to do the same with the secretary, who loves gum.

“Whenever I think about her, I think just how kind she is – just kind, inclusive and caring,” Steele said.

Judy Knight, who hired Martinez and worked alongside her until she retired in 2001, said that even back then, students loved her.

“The kids really, really liked her, for obvious reasons," Knight said. "They could come and talk to her about any problem that they had, and very often it had nothing to do with school, and she would help them as best she could."

Martinez said that although she’s been in the same place for so long, she never encounters a dull day at school. She added that although the position does not pay well, she has no plans of leaving anytime soon.

"I get paid in love," Martinez said.

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