Karen Dugas always felt inclined to teach. As a child she often played “school” with her siblings using old classroom materials.
Yet when the time came to choose a career, Karen pursued a degree in biomedical engineering. That didn’t last long.
“I volunteered at a hospital in New Orleans. Somebody walked in with a bullet wound, and I passed out,” she says. “So I knew that the medical field wasn’t for me.”
Karen went on to acquire a degree in physics but tutored throughout her college career, reigniting her interest in teaching. She took a leap of faith and began her teaching career at Comeaux High School.
One-off tutoring sessions flourished into a business, Above the Limit, where she offered regular tutoring sessions and prep for college admissions tests.
It worried Karen to hear that many of her students didn’t have plans for life after graduation. The issue hit home as her son neared the end of high school:
“I was pushing him to go to school, go to college. And he hated high school. And here I am trying to push him to have more school. And he looked at me. He said, ‘I’m not going to have my life figured out at 17.’ And it just sat with me and I couldn’t say anything,” Karen recalls.
Even if they didn’t have it all figured out, Karen wanted to offer teens like her son tools to help them take steps in the right direction, and Above the Bus Foundation was born. A proud Viking, Karen says Northside High was the perfect school to start. She wanted to connect students with mentors, but when she went to reach out to her fellow alumni, there wasn’t an established network to tap into. So, she made her own.
She wasn’t the first to try, she says, but technology made it easier this time around. The revived Northside Alumni Association exploded, signing up 500 members in two months. It even raised $15,000 for Northside High.
People were waiting for an opportunity to give back and get involved. Vikings alumni stretch across the globe. Membership in the association nearly matches enrollment at NHS one-for-one, a ratio that makes meaningful alumni mentorship possible.
For Karen, engagement like that is essential in education. It’s not enough to teach. Communities need to invest in the next generation.
“Sometimes we sit around and wait for the next person to do it. Just do it. I really want the community to know that our youth need us,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if you have this passion for children, they need to see us active, they need to have conversations with us, they need guidance.”
Celebrate Karen and the rest of this year’s honorees Nov. 29 at Moncus Park.