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Gainesville Teacher of the Year: Dawn Barry

Curious George helps Barry spark students

POSTED: January 17, 2008 5:03 a.m.

GAINESVILLE -- On the first week of school, Dawn Barry takes her kindergartners on a tour of the school with the help of Curious George.

The famed monkey of children's literature has "disappeared from the classroom and we have to find him," Barry said.

"We just try to plug him in to wherever we can," she said of the character. "He's a lot of fun."

Such work in the classroom is part of what has brought acclaim for the Centennial Arts Academy teacher, who has been named Gainesville city schools' teacher of the year for the 2008-09 school year.

Barry, 39, was first named Centennial's teacher of the year. She then was selected tops from teachers of the year in the district's seven schools.

She now goes on to compete for Georgia teacher of the year. The state will announce the winner at a banquet in May.

Barry, an Atlanta native, is in her second year of teaching at Centennial, her fourth year overall. She spent years away from the classroom as she raised twin sons. She earned her bachelor's degree from Dowling College in New York, then went on to teach kindergarten in New York for two years.

Barry later returned to Atlanta and now is set to work on her master's degree, either through Piedmont College in Demorest or Brenau University in Gainesville. She said she returned to teaching "once I knew my children were old enough to be a little more independent and not rely so much on me on a day-to-day basis."

Her sons are 10-year-old Dana and Christopher, Centennial fourth-graders. Her husband is Kevin.
Barry spent one year at Centennial as a special education paraprofessional, then became a kindergarten teacher the following year.

Her love for teaching goes back to her childhood. "I grew up with a lot of children in my family and ... we used to love play school and be part of the school environment," Barry said. "I enjoyed school myself and always wanted to be around children."

She was particularly drawn to teaching young children. "It's just a passion. They learn like little sponges. They can absorb so much at such a young age. I don't feel like you see that quite so much as they get a little older," she said.

Barry is not shy about dressing up her classroom to capture young minds. Curious George and his owner, the Man in the Yellow Hat, can be found in pictures throughout the room, along with other furnishings and decorations, such as a string of cardboard Christmas bulbs with the students' names on them draped across the room.

"I always knew that teaching was where I was grounded. That's where I felt the best and it's where I feel like I'm doing a good job," she said.

Barry said she believes the classroom, especially kindergarten, "needs to be a very safe, warm place where children feel free to express themselves and communicate, and where they're really listened to."



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