Position: Biology Teacher
School: Lanier High School
School District: Jackson Public Schools
City, State: Jackson, Mississippi
About the Nominee: Kristen Barnes-Clay was nominated by a colleague, Betty Davis. The first time you meet Mrs. Barnes-Clay, you might be surprised by her size. Standing at a height of 4'4, she is often the smallest person in the room, but from a quick conversation, you can tell she has one of the biggest hearts. It is not unusual to see her helping students through her lunch break, while on morning duty, after school or even at the nearby McDonald's on the weekend. When asked why, she always responds, "Caring is contagious." She cares for her students, coworkers and the community in numerous ways and has motivated students to do the same through peer teaching, increasing school spirit and introducing minorities to the wonders of science.
In the process of creating lifelong learners, Mrs. Barnes-Clay has helped Lanier High School implement various programs to encourage students to pursue science careers. Since the beginning of her tenure in 2012, Mrs. Barnes-Clay has helped her school conquer numerous challenges. Some of these challenges included a low passing rate on the Biology SATP test and a subpar graduation rate stemming from students having difficulties in science comprehension and retention. During her first year at Lanier High School, Mrs. Barnes-Clay taught Introduction to Biology, where she prepared ninth graders to meet the demands of critical thinking needed for Biology I. She also hosted family science nights and pull-out tutorials for seniors who were unable to pass the Biology I state test. After increasing the passage rate to 90% of senior re-testers, Mrs. Barnes-Clay was transferred to a Biology I classroom for the rest of the school year to prepare first time test takers for their upcoming test.
Since 2013-14, Mrs. Barnes-Clay has taught Biology I, Biology II and AP Biology. She has also spearheaded a rigorous Biology after-school tutorial program which caters to student needs. This program ensures that students receive one-on-one tutorial services from teachers, as well as current and past students. She has gone beyond the call of duty to transform the entire biology department's method towards testing. With her help, the department has implemented the use of interactive notebooks, the UNRAVEL technique, mini-labs and peer teaching, which are all techniques that allow more students to engage in hands-on, inquiry-based learning. Additionally, Mrs. Barnes and her colleagues have implemented a school Robotics program. In its first year, the program advanced to the University of Southern Mississippi's state competition.
Ms. Davis states that it's a joy to have Mrs. Barnes-Clay in the building. She has not only set high expectations for herself and her students, but she serves as a living example to her students and colleagues that her ability to care, love, and serve the impoverished students of the community is stronger than her disability.