"I was in her sixth grade class twice because I failed the first time," Wayne tells PEOPLE

By Danielle Anderson
Updated March 24, 2016 06:55 PM
Credit: Larry Marano/Getty Images

When country artist, author and advocate for foster children Jimmy Wayne was approached by the Krystal fast-food chain about doing a promotion for their new menu items, he immediately thought of a way to spin it that would recognize educators.

“They asked me if I had any ideas and the first thing that popped in my mind was my sixth grade teacher Ms. Crystal Friday. She’s the teacher who inspired me to write,” says Wayne, who scored a No. 1 hit in 2008 with “Do You Believe Me Now” and also co-authored the books Paper Angels, which became a TV movie, and the New York Times Bestseller Walk to Beautiful, based on his walk across the country in support of foster kids.

“None of this would’ve happened, had it not been for her,” says Wayne, 43. “It started in her classroom. She said to write a journal and so I did.”

Wayne’s partnership with Krystal resulted in the Country Fried Favorites Contest, where students in the Southeast are encouraged to save their Krystal food boxes and use their imaginations to turn them into a work of art. The winning school will receive a concert from Wayne and $5,000 of school supplies. Students can also download the Ms. Crystal Friday coupon and present it to a teacher who has inspired them.

For Wayne though, he’s just thrilled to be able to recognize his teacher, whom he also credits with providing some much needed discipline in his life, as she retires after 37 years of service.

“I was in her sixth grade class twice because I failed the first time,” says Wayne, who grew up in and out of foster care and was homeless for a time.

“The second time I was in her class was during a time when my mom was in a maximum security prison and I was living with my granddad, who was a bootlegger, so I wasn’t getting any discipline at home. I was saying all these hurtful things to her and disrupting the class and she taught me a lot of discipline. She was one of those teachers that would not take anything from anyone. She was a fighter from day one.”

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Wayne first reconnected with Ms. Friday when she waited on line at his 2008 CD signing in his hometown in North Carolina.

“I recognized her right away,” says Wayne. “I couldn’t believe she waited all that time to see me. The first thing I said was, ‘Ms. Friday, I’m sorry for saying all those words to you! I don’t know why I said those things to you because you were always a loving, strong human being.’ She said, ‘Jimmy, I was the only person listening to you. I was the only person you could talk to and vent.’ It killed me. She’s just a very humble woman.”