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GRACE Student Wins Teacher of the Year Award

The notorious first year of teaching – Lauren Barnes describes it as the hardest, but the best year of her life.

Barnes, a student in the University of St. Thomas Gulf Region Academy for Catholic Educators (GRACE), spent the last year taking courses to earn a master’s degree in education while teaching fifth grade at Resurrection Catholic School.

Navigating the unfamiliar classroom highs and lows, Barnes ended her first year earning an unexpected and unprecedented accolade – the Elementary Teacher of the Year award. A native of Kingwood, Barnes earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Dallas.

Danny Brogee, Resurrection Catholic School principal, said Barnes was nominated for the award by her peers.

“It’s extremely unusual for a first-year teacher to win Teacher of the Year, but Ms. Barnes was more than deserving,” Brogee said. “You can see the passion she has for teaching. She has a wonderful rapport with the students and parents, she has integrated a lot of technology into her lesson plans and her students performed the best on standardized tests.”

Barnes credits the GRACE Program faculty and classmates, as well as her and her Resurrection students and fellow teachers for helping her through the first year.

Often described as the Catholic version of Teach for America, GRACE is a partnership between UST and the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. GRACE is a member of the University Consortium for Catholic Education, an alliance of 15 universities which offer similar programs including University of Notre Dame, Boston College, University of Portland, Seton Hall, Loyola Marymount University, Loyola University Chicago, Valparaiso University and Christian Brothers University.

“This award is an acknowledgment for the GRACE program, which enables Catholic teachers to better serve the schools where they teach,” Barnes said. “Living in community with other first-year Catholic teachers gives you support. When I had really bad days or when I was dealing with a really difficult situation, I had people in the same situation who could tell me, “you can do this.

“I still have a lot to learn and a lot of growing to do as a teacher, but this recognition shows that my fellow teachers and principal believe in me. It gives me the encouragement to keep going on to face classroom challenges,” Barnes said.

At times, those challenges were extreme. Barnes said some students had already encountered crime and drug abuse in their communities at a young age. Some spent the winter without coats, while others worried about having enough to eat.

“They are the most resilient and inspiring children,” Barnes said “Students say I am strict, but I had one student say I was one of the first teachers who actually cared about how they were doing; that was humbling to hear. My first priority in teaching is caring for the student and helping them become the best person they can become. The formation of the whole student is what Catholic schools are about.”