La Plata High instructor named Charles County Teacher of the Year
Social studies teacher recognized for passion, use of technology
For La Plata High School teacher Kevin Barry, one of the biggest joys in teaching is helping students to understand the connections in time and place.
“I love telling stories through maps, and getting an idea of what our place is in the world. What has happened
in the past is shaping our today,” the social studies teacher said. Barry said he helps students find connections between past and present events, such as World War II and the War on Terror. “It’s about making those connections,
to link past events together to modern times.”
Barry has been named Charles County’s finalist for the 2016 Washington Post Teacher of the Year Award.
Formerly the Agnes Meyer Teacher of the Year program,
the award program now recognizes one teacher from each participating school district as a finalist. One overall recipient for a regional award is ultimately chosen by the newspaper.
According to award literature
from the Post, the goal of the award is “to recognize excellence in teaching, to encourage creative and quality instruction and to contribute in a substantive way to the improvement of education in the Washington metropolitan area.”
Barry was nominated for the award by a team of staff members at La Plata High.
Leslie Schroek, coordinator for the nomination team, said it did not take long for the team to settle on Barry.
“He is an exemplary teacher who exceeds all of the nomination criteria. He is passionate about his subject matter which comes through in his interactions with students. United States history, AP human geography, and computer science come alive for his students because he continually incorporates instructional technology in his lessons,” the committee wrote in its nomination letter.
“When I was told I was going to be nominated, I was taken aback,” Barry said. “It never crossed my mind that I was doing anything special, I was just doing my job. Just like everyone else in this building. We’re a team.”
Barry said his interest in history began at a young age, inspired by his father.
“My father was a big history guy, and whenever we’d take road trips, he’d tell me the history of whatever place we’d go to,” Barry said. “He taught me that understanding of where you came from was really important. He was also huge into genealogy, all of this research tracing our family back, where we came from, and that just fascinated me — why are we who we are? And teaching history gives me an opportunity to tell those same stories.”
Barry came to La Plata High School after graduating from Western Michigan University in 2006 and has been there ever since.
Incorporating technology into the classroom is a major goal for him.
“In the classroom, so often, we have tons of great resources, but so often they’re just left unused. So I’ve found ways of infusing them into the classroom,” Barry said. “I look at technology as a way of giving them job skills, and it allows them to separate themselves when they get to college because they’ve had experience with more than just Google searches.”
He also serves as the school’s telepresence coordinator, facilitating use of videoconferencing technology with individuals and groups across the country and around the world.
“It’s such a great tool; it allows us to expand the walls of the classroom,” Barry said. “It could be a college lecture from a professor, it could be a simulation activity. For our business department we’re doing a career spotlight series … it’s allowing the kids to experience something they otherwise would never have been exposed to.”
He said the telepresence technology has allowed students to partake in very topical discussions.
“Last year during the ebola scare, we were able to find a virologist [in Kansas] who was able to explain the whole situation to students of not only how the disease works, how it spreads, and how to contain it,” Barry said.
In addition, Barry works with Code.org, a national nonprofit organization that promotes computer programming education in schools, and serves as the school’s computer science teacher.
“I’ve gotten to travel across the country, to work with teachers on teaching computer science,” he said.
Barry said he hopes to inspire students in the same way other teachers inspired him.
“It’s about the kids. In elementary, middle and high school, there were moments when I struggled,” he said. “But there were teachers who not only helped me, but they were so creative in inspiring me to want to learn more. I want to give that same opportunity now.”
Kevin Barry speaks with students during a lesson. Barry was named the 2016 Charles County finalist in the Washington Post’s “Teacher of the Year” award.