Robyn Barberry is the doting wife of her high school sweetheart, the mother of three precocious boys, and the art teacher at St. Joan of Arc school in Aberdeen.


February 2017
January 2017

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Your words are always so inspiring. I also spent 12 years in Catholic school and chose to give my children a Catholic school education. It is the best decision we have ever made!


I attended public school and taught in them as well. My husband attended catholic school K-12 grade. When our children were born, I was sure they'd attend the local public school. However, my husband asked me to go to the open house at St. Joan of Arc just to see it. I spent about an hour to an hour and a half and when I walked out, I called my husband and told him our kids were going to SJA without a doubt. I saw God everywhere, friendly faces and a welcoming family atmosphere. I realized that my kids could have God in their life daily and be with other like minded families and students rather than just think about God at home and on Sunday. Both my boys attended SJA through 8th grade and then went on to The John Carroll School and I was extremely satisfied with their education, both academic and spiritual. I'm so grateful that 15 years ago my husband asked me to visit a catholic school and consider it for our boys. Thank you Robyn for your insight!


Guest blog: 5 reasons why I send my child to a Catholic school

I have asked several friends, co-workers, and family members to write about what a Catholic education means to them. Previously, Gina Sabo, the Technology Integration Specialist, at St. Joan of Arc School in Aberdeen, wrote about why she chooses to teach in a Catholic school. Today, she reveals 5 reasons why she and her husband, Jon, have decided to send their 7-year-old son, Danny, to St. Joan of Arc. I'm blessed to have the Sabo family in my life at home and at school.

Why do I send my son to a Catholic School? by Gina Sabo

My husband and I have been happily married for almost 10 years.  We have a beautiful, rambunctious, 7-year old boy, and two years ago, we had to make an important decision.  We had to consider serious, life-altering decisions (I was in the middle of changing jobs) on where we would want our young impressionable child to start his formal education.  

Now, my husband and I were both part of the “hybrid” Catholic School and public school upbringing.  We had attended both types of environments at some point in our educational career, so we knew what each type of school brought to the table.

The public school our son would be attending had several amazing teachers, great after school opportunities he could participate in, and many of his friends would attend the same school. Their test scores were high, and they had access to the public library programs right next door.  The before and after school program would allow for us to not make any major changes to our work schedules, however, it would cost as much for the Catholic School tuition.  With that being said, it was a serious contender in our discussions.

The Catholic School we were considering had students who performed well on standardized test scores, and the student-teacher ratio was something public school teachers dream about.  It offered Spanish, art, and music much like the public school, and SMART Boards, and iPads in every classroom.  But the most important difference we saw in the Catholic School that was lacking in the public school was the spirit you felt walking through the front door.

So here are just a few reasons why we choose to send our son to Catholic School:


Like many families, we pray together as a family.  We say grace at mealtimes and we ask our guardian angels to watch over us when things get tough.  But we also try to pray throughout the day.  When we encounter an accident while we are traveling anywhere (the store, long trips to see family, etc.) we always say a quick prayer for whoever was involved. We thank God for all the beautiful things we encounter in nature.  At our school, we say morning prayers, Grace, a short prayer before classes start.  Sometimes we even pray the rosary together as a school.  My son is able to freely ask questions about his faith, and discuss how much he enjoys learning about God and praying with his friends.  It is my husband’s and my hope that through our guidance and the continued support from the school, that our son turns to God in times of need.


Okay, so this may seem like an odd reason to send my child to Catholic School, but hear me out.  Although uniforms can be expensive, most Catholic Schools participate in a uniform exchange program.  This helps keeping the cost down for many families.  Uniforms are also a timesaver in the morning.  Although I have to remember if it is a P.E. day or regular uniform, I don’t have to argue over whether or not a certain shirt is clean.  This allows for more family time in the morning before we trek to work and school.  While in school, it is clear that it is time to focus on the learning, and not who has the best label or newest shoes.  Everyone was created equal in the eyes of God, so why not extend that into the learning environment as well.

Wanting to Serve Others

In school, each grade level participates in outreach and service projects.  Students make sandwiches for the hungry, collect money for the poor.  This year, they participated in the Water Project to raise awareness and money for those who do not have access to clean water.  At Christmas time, the school rallies together and sponsors a family.  The students and their families gather gifts for those who are less fortunate.  In our own families, we volunteer for Faith Formation Classes, take food to those less fortunate for Thanksgiving, and help out with other church-sponsored activities.

Danny paints a bowl for the Empty Bowls program

It is my hope, that through my husband’s and my example, as well as through his experience in the Catholic School, that our son sees that we don’t do these things just to give back to the community (though this too is noble) but, that we are following in Jesus’s footsteps, and he will continue to do so as he gets older.

It’s Academic …. But Not the Most Important Thing

Yes, learning is an important aspect of any school.  However, it wouldn’t matter if the school had a state of the art Science lab, a robotics club, or drama.  I am more concerned that my child becomes a kind, selfless person.  The Catholic School practices the same values that we as parents “preach” at home.

Can’t Do It Alone

Jon and Danny Sabo on the first day of school.

Although I would like to believe that my husband and I would be able to provide all our son needs to have a personal relationship with God.  That he will grow up to value his Catholic faith and upbringing.  But I would be naive to believe that we could do that alone.  Children learn from example; not only from their parents/guardians, but also from other children and adults.  We do what we can at home, but in this day and age, we can use all the help we can get.  I am so thankful for the community of our Catholic School.

You see, our school is similar to the public school in many ways.  But it is clearly more than just a school.  It is a tight knit community.  Our students, faculty, and parents come together every day in a community of faith and warmth.  Something that has grown increasingly more important in a world of harsh realities.  Our school provides an important space for our students to feel a sense of belonging and a safe haven to openly discuss their beliefs, hopes, and dreams.  Yes, our school prepares their minds, but with the help of our Catholic Faith, it prepares their souls.

February 13, 2017 12:00
By Robyn Barberry

Guest blog: 5 reasons why I teach in a Catholic school

I asked several friends, coworkers, and family members to write about what Catholic schools mean to them. Today you will hear from my dear friend and colleague, Gina Sabo, who is the Technology Integration Specialist at St. Joan of Arc School in Aberdeen. It's been an honor to work with her over the past decade in several settings. We both agree that working at SJA has brought us tremendous happiness.

5 reasons why I teach in a Catholic school by Gina Sabo

The author and her son, Danny, on the first day of school.

Why do I teach in a Catholic School?

I have heard this question and many other as to my choice to teach in a Catholic school.  

“Aren’t you limiting yourself career wise? There’s not much room for growth!”

“Aren’t you afraid of your school closing?”

“You know you can get paid more in the public school, right?”

In reality, my school isn’t much different than that of a public school.  Our students come from all walks of life.  We have parents that email...some more than others.  We have meetings and professional development.  Behavior problems.  More meetings.  Standardized testing.  Budgets. And new standards to meet.

But the one thing that makes my school stand out - God.  My School’s Mission Statement describes a “faith community of educators, learners, and families using God’s gifts to develop 21st Century skills of innovation, collaboration, problem-solving, and reasoning to enrich the global society” (St. Joan of Arc School).  It is within this type of environment that I cannot imagine being without.  

So when I have to “defend” my decision to teach in the Catholic School, here are just five of the reasons:

Authentic Community

As I mentioned before, our school is a tight-knit community of teachers, students, parents, and administrators.  Some could say that it is because we all have that one thing that binds us together-faith, but I tend to lean more towards the fact that we truly care about each other.  We have students who return after graduation talking of how much they loved the sense of belonging they felt while attending our school.  As teachers, we bond together over shared students we have watched grow over the years.  The administration gets to know each child on an individual level, and cheers them on by name.  Even our Pastor, Father Willie Franken, offers words of wisdom and guidance to our families at just the right time.  Faculty, students, and parents all come together and pray for those who are sick, celebrate a new baby or wedding shower, or even provide a special gift to a student whose family needs to leave mid-year.

Encourages Me to Be a Better Christian and Role Model

Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you attend or teach at a public or Catholic school; all teachers are being watched daily by their students and parents.  Eyes are always watching to see how to react and how they should structure their behaviors.  Parents are personally making sure teachers are meeting their students’ needs.  In my school, however, students are also watching my devotion to the Lord.  My students can smell the difference between real and fake, so this encourages me to constantly keep myself in check and be authentic in my relationship with my students and God.

Everything is Geared Towards Christ

In the public school setting, I was constantly worried about offending someone.  I had to watch what I said and how I said it.  In the Catholic school, I am able to complement, discuss, and even explain my beliefs without worry of offending my students.  Often, I can praise a student “God has truly blessed you with the talent for drawing,” or thank a student for their help during Mass.  Students can openly discuss their love for God and our daily lessons are often linked to the Fruits of the Spirit.  

Holidays - Big and Small

In the Catholic school, the holidays - both big and small - are celebrated with a certain sort of style.  The Christmas season appears more humble throughout the school.  Giving, rather than receiving, is the moving force within the classrooms.  Students focus on service projects and the birth of Christ. In May we celebrate Mary, the mother of Jesus.  As a school, we meet in the “Grotto” outside our building and place the crown of flowers atop her head and recite a shortened version of the rosary.  It is these spiritual practices that, for me, make teaching in the Catholic School special.

Someone Always Has Your Back

No matter where you work, obstacles are always encountered.  Calling for help can include a conversation with technical support, help from a co-worker, or even a meeting with your boss.  Working in a Catholic School, you can seek help from a higher authority.  Our staff begins each week in prayer.  Just before the students enter the building, we gather together in our Faculty Lounge, and thank God for our abilities and blessings, and ask for his help.  Throughout the school year, we support each other in highs and lows.  We celebrate the small victories and pray over difficult times.  We are assured through our faith that no matter what happens, God’s love for us will be there forever.

February 12, 2017 12:35
By Robyn Barberry

Catholic schools: a legacy of sanctuary


This past week, schools across the Archdiocese of Baltimore have celebrated all of the wonderful things that make Catholic Schools the gold standard for highly academic and deeply spiritual education. It was an honor to observe the occasion with my colleagues, my students, and their families at St. Joan of Arc School in Aberdeen. We wore beautiful pins and celebrated with treats, events, and prayerful reflection. I enjoyed having parents visit my Enrichment classroom to learn about polar bear adaptations through an interactive game of dress-up, while Collin liked pajama day. The SJA spirit was in full swing and contagious.

Advancement Director Lauren Hayden and her student ambassadors
rolled out the red carpet for visitors at St. Joan of Arc's Open House.

Catholic Schools Week is always a homecoming of sorts for those of us who have spent a part of our lives surrounded by God’s love in the classrooms where we learned and played. It’s a chance to pause and remember our experiences as young people, searching for answers to riddles, algebra problems, or metaphysical questions and being led to them by caring teachers and good friends in a place where God was welcomed; in a place where God welcomed us.

My brother, Greg, and I on our first day of St. Margaret School in Bel Air, 1993.

I got my start in Catholic Schools 30 years ago as a member of the “God’s Little People” preschool program at St. Michael the Archangel in Overlea. It was the same school my dad and many of my cousins had attended. In fact, most members of my enormous family attended Catholic schools at some point in their lives. My ancestors saw Catholic schools as a perennial garden where their values would reach subsequent generations. Those values were instilled in my dad and his siblings by my grandparents’ decision to send my dad and his siblings to St. Michael the Archangel, Seton High, St. Stephen’s Bradshaw, and Archbishop Curley.

My dad, Bob Chrest, on his First Communion Day, 1963.

My dad, Archbishop Curley High School, Class of 1974

It’s a tradition some of us are passing along to our next generation. I currently have five cousins at Archbishop Curley (two teachers and three students) and one cousin (whose brother attends St. Michael the Archangel in Overlea) attending Catholic High. Collin is, of course, at St. Joan of Arc, and my three little ones are right on his heels!

Collin dressed as St. Patrick for St. Joan of Arc's All Saints' Day Mass, 2016

I didn’t always appreciate the strict rules and unfashionable uniforms I wore at St. Margaret’s School in the 1990s, but when I look at the skills, talents, and depth of faith I’ve gained, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for my parents and teachers. Now that I’m standing in their shoes as a mom and Catholic school teacher, I recognize the motives for their passion, and every nail and beam and angle of the architecture they built to raise me up in the way that God imagined. I see the framework now and try to structure for my own children and students a sanctuary of learning where the Holy Spirit can enlighten and inspire them – and me.

"St. Joan of Arc School: Grounded in Faith, Focused on the Future" 

St. Joan of Arc School has become that place of sanctuary for me. I can see my faith represented in the crucifixes on every classroom wall, in the photograph of Pope Francis smiling above our stairwell, and in our gorgeous St. Joan of Arc mural.  I can hear my faith in the prayers said on the morning and afternoon announcements, at the beginning of class, during lunch, before a test. I can feel God’s presence as we celebrate Mass as a school on Thursdays. God is everywhere I go and in every face I encounter. Whether we are Catholic or not, we, the community of St. Joan of Arc School, are a like-minded people who believe in the power of love and all things good.

My kindergarten Enrichment students locate the Arctic as part of their unit on saving the Polar Bear 

Being a part of a Catholic school offers an unprecedented opportunity to gain both intellect and faith in a nurturing community that is safe, warm, and full of life. I consider my Catholic education to be one of the greatest gifts my parents have ever given me. I attribute my creativity, language arts abilities, problem solving and analysis skills, commitment to my community, respect for all people, reverence for life and all living things, and strong Catholic faith to the nine years I spent at St. Margaret School. These are aspects which are often overlooked in public education due to the pressures of testing, compliance to ever-changing standards, and discipline. As a public school high school student and teacher, I witnessed those struggles firsthand. As a Catholic school teacher, I have found myself able to set those concerns aside and focus on teaching engaging material, at a steady pace, using advanced technology, with Catholic values infused into every lesson. Every one of my students is encouraged to share their gifts with our class. Every one of my student is a gift to our class.

Members from the Class of 2023 work as teams to create art from recycled electronic junk

I have chosen to send my children to Catholic school because I'm carrying on the faith that has sustained my family for countless generations. Like them, I want my children to be challenged academically and nurtured spiritually. I want my children to experience God's presence in the things they see and hear and in the people they meet throughout their school day. I want my sons and daughter to be seen as unique individuals with one shared identity: children of God. And like my parents did for me, I am willing to make sacrifices to provide for them a future full of possibilities beyond their imaginations, with God by their sides.  

I encourage parents who are considering sending their children to a parochial school to take the time to visit a Catholic school to witness for themselves the future of our faith and our world; young people growing in mind and spirit, by His most radiant light.

At St. Joan of Arc School in Aberdeen, visitors are always welcome. Please make an appointment with Lauren Hayden at We look forward to seeing you!

If you would like to share an uplifting story about your Catholic school experience, please do so in the comments below!   



February 05, 2017 04:11
By Robyn Barberry

The Water Challenge

What is the one thing that every person in the world needs every day? Water. (5-13 gallons of it per day, to be exact.) In the United States, we are blessed to have access to an abundance of clean water for brushing our teeth, washing our clothes, our dishes, our bodies, cooking, and, of course, drinking. But over a billion people in developing countries, such as sub-Saharan Africa, do not have access to the very think that keeps us clean, healthy, and alive.  

At St. Joan of Arc School, we always strive to care for others and the environment. So, when we were asked to participate in The Water Challenge, through The Water Project, Inc., all of us joined the cause. Participants are asked to drink nothing but water in a reusable bottle for two weeks and document the milk, juice, soda, and coffee they eliminate. At the end of two weeks, each person donates the money they saved by choosing water over other drinks. The goal is for each person to raise $23. A few months after the money is returned to The Water Project, Inc., donors will receive a report of where their money went, including GPS coordinates! It turns their small sacrifice into something big and important.   

The idea is similar to the kind of fasting we do in Lent. The Water Challenge offers us the chance to think about those who have less than we do and to appreciate something we often take advantage. It also enables us to avoid the waste associated with disposable water bottles. Finally, it encourages us to take better care of our bodies by avoiding caffeinated and sugary drinks.

It was a rough start for many of the students, including my second-grader Collin. They were upset that they wouldn’t be able to enjoy the juices they ordered for hot lunch or the lemonade at our Chik-fil-a fundraiser night. It was a big change for little kids, but when teachers like myself rose up to the challenge, our involvement and the reminder wristbands they wore inspired the students to stay on board.

Now the students are excited about their small sacrifice to make the world a better place. Collin even got my tea-drinking parents involved. They send us photo updates to let us know that they’re drinking their H2O! (Now that we've got them hooked, we need to convert them to reusable water bottles!)

It’s not too late for you or your organization to participate in The Water Challenge. If you’re not a fan of tap water, you can buy a filter for your sink or a pitcher for your refrigerator. Even my gym has an awesome water fountain filter! An excellent selection of reusable water bottles can be found in many stores and on Nalgene, Camelback, and Tervis make excellent leak-proof bottles and cups in a variety of sizes. I’m a big fan of the coated aluminum canteens like the 32 oz. mint green one I have by Simple Modern. My water stays cold for 24 hours!  

Since we started The Water Project I have more energy and am more aware of my water usage in other settings. I’ve been thinking about those who suffer because of their limited access to potable water. I hope that the money we donate can help make their lives better. Above all, I thank God for providing my family with a safe, clean source of the one thing we need most.        

January 14, 2017 12:40
By Robyn Barberry

Let there be light!

On the first day of creation, God said, "Let there be light!"

I said the same words the other day when my kitchen lights burned out -- while I was cooking dinner. So, while I sauteed greens under the dim light projecting from above my stove, Patrick ran out to Home Depot. He returned with new LED fixtures to replace the fluorescent bulbs overhead and reinstalled a blown glass pendant light he made.

When we flipped the switch, we could not believe how bright our kitchen was. It was pitch black dark outside, but daylight streamed through our kitchen. You could do surgery in there. The intense light highlighted every flaw: clutter, spatters we missed when wiping down the stove, hard water spots in the sink, crumbs on the floor...the list kept compounding.

Without delay, we began tidying and scrubbing the kitchen. The light led us to our problem areas and lingered until it was pleased enough for us to move on to the next project. (The fact that we had visitors arriving the next day certainly added to our effort.) By the time we finished, not only did we eliminated most of the ugliness from our kitchen, but we also discovered the beauty. Like the shiny turquoise cabinets, the nick knacks, photographs, and art on the windowsill, and an array of countertop appliances that save us time and energy. The perpetual presence of the bright light in our kitchen has compelled us to be neater, more organized people because our inadequacies and indiscretions as they pertain to housekeeping are far more visible.

We've heard over and over again that God is the light of the world. He summoned light to appear and used it to guide him as he created the universe and everything and everyone within it. God invites us to see the world under his light, which is infinitely more powerful than the LEDs watching over my kitchen, so he illuminates everything. He helps us to appreciate the beauty in all that is good, to warn us where darkness lies, and to see places in and around us that can be made better with a little bit of cleaning up.

In 2017, ask yourself: How can I increase the light in my life? The answer may be as simple as changing out a few lightbulbs.

December 31, 2016 04:29
By Robyn Barberry

New year, new frontier

After Mass this morning, Collin said, "Mom, I'm really scared of 2017. 2016 was such a good year and I'm not ready to see it end."

I stopped and thought about what he said. In many ways he was right. 2016 was a great year.  God blessed us with Teagan. We managed to stay afloat financially so that we had a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. We love being a part of St. Joan of Arc. And, thanks be to God, everyone we love is in good health.

I began to consider what 2017 might be like. We could suddenly lose everything if an unexpected event drained our finances. We might lose our house, go hungry and struggle to pay school tuition and other bills. There's also the uncertainty of what a new president might bring our country. Someone I love could become very sick or die. That is my worst nightmare.

I didn't know what to tell Collin because all of the sudden I was a little bit afraid of a new year. We group our life's experiences into 12 months, 365 days and label them "good" or "bad" years based on the frequency or positive or negative events. But, sometimes we need to look at each year as a kaleidoscope of events rather than a polarized passing of time. On December 31st, we should look back at everything that's happened since January 1st and think about the ways we've changed and how we got there.

"We don't know what's going to happen in 2017, but we do know that God will take care of us, no matter what happens," I said. We talked about what things we have to look forward to, like his First Communion, our summer vacation, and adventures beyond our imagination. Life will be far from perfect, even in a "good" year, but as long as we remain faithful, God will protect us -- here or in the great beyond.   

December 18, 2016 10:10
By Robyn Barberry

An afternoon with my Great-Great-Great Grandmother

Last Saturday, December 10th, 2016, my parents, Collin, and I visited the Irish Railroad Workers Museum on Lemmon Street in Baltimore for their Irish Christmas Celebration. Alongside the apple cider, scones, and Celtic Christmas ornament crafts, we received a tour of two tiny row houses, one of which represented an Irish family’s home during the 1860s. A family not unlike that of my Irish immigrant ancestors. And surprisingly, a family not unlike my own today. A family that could have been mine, not so long ago.

The Feeley family lived in a space the size of my living room and dining room (and my house isn't very big.) James, the head of the household, worked long, hard days as a boilermaker at the B&O railroad, while Mrs. Feeley raised the children and took in extra money by doing other people’s laundry over their hearth, hanging everything to dry in the small yard where their outhouse was.

There was no running water. Food was purchased at the Hollins Street Market, a short walk away. A winding, narrow, trepidacious staircase leads to the second floor. As I carried 5-month-old Teagan up and down the stairs, I thought for sure we'd stumble and meet a certain death. I wondered how Mrs. Feeley managed to make the trip upstairs and down carrying one of her children and laundry and water.The Feeley baby slept in a cradle in the parents’ bedroom while the older children shared a bed across the hall.

A simple ball and cup toy kept the children entertained.

The family worshiped at St. Peter’s Church, where the children attended school. (You can see it from their house. )

Not all of the children lived to adulthood due to diseases, such as cholera and typhoid fever, the latter of which was the cause of a major epidemic in Baltimore at this time. But, the Feeley family prevailed, like my own, passing along their heritage and their faith to future generations.

In 2016, I complain that my house is too small for my four children, my husband, our two cats, and myself. But, when I compared it to the size of the little house on Lemmon Street, I am amazed at how blessed we are. My husband works hard as a farmer, while I spend a considerable amount of time at home with my children. We have a spacious kitchen and an extremely efficient washer and dryer (though I STILL can't keep up with the laundry), as well as indoor plumbing. Our tap water is filtered. I have access to fresh food from all over the world at Wegman’s, but prefer to buy fruits and vegetables from my local farmer, Brad, in the growing season. Last year, I took a nasty spill down the wooden stairs to my second floor, but I survived. (I'm still apprehensive when I'm carrying something or someone.) Baby Teagan sleeps in a cradle beside my bed, while her brother shared a bed across the hall up until a few weeks ago when they got bunkbeds. The iPad is my boys' favorite toy. We are active members of our parish, St. Joan of Arc, where my son goes to school and I teach art. (We can see it from our house.) I pray every day for my children to stay healthy and live long lives. I am eternally grateful for the medical care we have available to us, particularly vaccines to prevent the kinds of diseases that took the lives of many children.

After visiting the Irish Railroad Workers Museum, I look at my household and lifestyle through new eyes.  What would my great-great grandmother say if she heard me complaining that the water in the shower was too hot because someone turned on the dishwasher? How would she feel if she saw me hydrating my flu-stricken sons with a magical potion called Pedialyte so that they could make a full recovery in just a few days? At the same time, how would she feel if she saw me walking my children to church on Sunday? My ungratefulness aside, I like to think that she would be proud. Our foundations on faith, family, and heritage have been passed down through the decades and preserved our Irish Catholic identity. Though modern conveniences, medicine, and workplace situations have changed, we should always remember where we came from and thank God for getting us here.

The Irish Railroad Workers Museum is located at 920 Lemmon St. in Baltimore and is open Friday and Saturday from 11 am - 2 pm and Sunday from 1-4 pm. I'd like to extend a special thanks to Luke and Cecelia for their hospitality and education.

December 17, 2016 10:23
By Robyn Barberry

3 beautiful Christmas songs you have to hear this season

If you’re anything like me, one of the things you like most about Christmas is the music. I have it on at home, in my classroom, in my car…pretty much everywhere I go. I love to hear popular hits like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” and “White Christmas” (The Drifters’ version is my favorite!), but songs that focus on the true meaning of Christmas, Jesus’ birth, are my favorite. I sing “Silent Night” to my babies as they drift to sleep. I hum along to “O Holy Night” and “The First Noel” because singing is not my gift. I’d rather hear Josh Grobin and Pentatonix serenade me. But, there are three modern day religious Christmas songs that resonate with me the most. You may have never heard of them, but you should take the time to listen to them this season.

1. “Sweet Little Baby Boy” by: James Brown

We all know James Brown as the Godfather of Soul, who capitalized on the phrase “I Feel Good” with his hit of the same name. His funky vibe makes even the grouchiest sports fan stand up and groove when his voice blares through the stadium speakers. But, James Brown had a much softer side, which can be experienced when you listen to “Sweet Little Baby Boy.”

I first heard this song when Collin was a baby. As a new mom, I imagined the love that Mary must have felt for her sweet little baby boy. I had also recently experienced a resurgence of my faith and connected when James’ Brown says “He restored my mind” and “My mother told me this story…The greatest love story ever told.”

I like the soulful vibe and refrain of “Sweet Little Baby Boy” reminding me that Jesus was once like my sweet babies. It’s almost a lullaby. (From James Brown of all people!)

2. “Christmas Song” by Dave Matthews Band

Dave Matthews Band at the center of the upbeat, “Jam-band” music scene of the late 1990s and early 2000. (They’re still around and make for an excellent live music experience.) It’s a large band which features instruments beyond the normal rock realm of guitars and drums. There’s also a trumpet player, a saxophonist, a violinist, and a keyboardist. But, “Christmas Song” is a very simple masterpiece consisting of a combo of one gentle voice and two acoustic guitars.

This song stirs my emotions and invigorates my faith. It tells the story of Jesus’ entire life, reminding listeners over and over that no matter what happened, “his heart was full of love.” It’s an important message about His mission on Earth as well as His mission for us on Earth. And it started with a tiny baby.

I dare you to listen to this song without crying.

3. “Ave Maria” by Chris Cornell featuring Eleven

Yes, of course, you’ve heard this song before, but never like this. Chris Cornell was the lead singer of Soundgarden, a 1990s hard rock superpower from Seattle. Many music critics (including my brother and I) agree that he has the best voice of his era. He produces a unique and powerful sound. Every lyric he sings, he means, and there’s no greater version of that than his version of “Ave Maria.”

In this version of my absolute favorite hymn, Chris Cornell’s remarkable voice presents as an unexpected blend of mega rock star and opera singer. Rather than raging electric guitars and heavy drums, a traditional orchestra consumes the background to act as a meditative force so that you can focus your thoughts on Mary and Her incredible gift to us.

This beautiful song has stood the test of time and I was happy to locate a version that balanced both my modern and traditional tastes in music. Try it. I guarantee you’ll be surprised.   


You can find all of these songs on iTunes or Google Play. I hope you enjoy them! Please let me know what you think!       


December 09, 2016 04:31
By Robyn Barberry

Four Candles: An Afternoon with Sam Kauffman

Image result for sam kauffman christian
“Could you please be our candle lighter?” the lady with pale blonde hair before the altar asked.

At first, I thought she was talking about the sixth grade boy before me, but then it was clear that she was looking right at me.

The lady, who had just introduced herself to the middle school students and teachers of St. Joan of Arc School, was Sam Kauffman who was visiting us from all the way across the country in the San Francisco Bay area. She was invited to speak to our church and our school to celebrate the first Sunday of Advent with her presentation “Four Candles.” Ms. Kauffman is an internationally known Christian singer and songwriter. Some of her music is even used in prison ministry.

Ms. Kauffman’s presentation was brilliant and beautifully structured so that even my most precocious sixth grade boys were captivated. Her voice was crystal clear as she started us off with a traditional form of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

She told us the story of a broken organ in an Austrian at Christmas and how the music minister managed to compose “Silent Night” on the guitar, scrambling to transform the melody into an instrument that wasn’t his first choice.  It was a story I had never heard, and one which spoke of the idea that hope helps us to see possibility.

As the presentation unfolded, we (I) continued to light the candles as we listened to stories of the prophets (did you know that Jesus fulfilled 44 prophecies made about Him?) and the great preparations the world made and is still making for Jesus. Ms. Kauffman told a new Nativity story about the “Little Star” who didn’t have great gifts to offer the baby Jesus, but ultimately gave us his light.  

Her parting words have stuck with me most. She asked us whether we are a WAM or a WAY. WAM means “what about me?” and WAY means “what about you?” It got me thinking about my own plans for the holidays and how I need to be less selfish and more Christ-centered.

We were so honored to host Ms. Kauffman and blessed to have her share her gifts with us. I particularly liked her modern, upbeat version of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Her presentation was an excellent way to kick off the Advent season, in our church, our school, our homes, and our hearts.

Please check out Sam Kauffman’s website. She offers many more interesting presentations and music to enrich your spirit.

November 30, 2016 03:12
By Robyn Barberry

Making the Grade

Making the Grade

If you ask any teacher what they dislike the most about their job, I can practically guarantee you that the majority would say, “grading.” We’d rather be planning, or teaching, of course, rather than being strapped down to a gradebook, print, electronic, or otherwise.

In math and science or on multiple-choice tests, grading isn’t so bad. There’s always an answer key to act as the ultimate judge of right and wrong. But for people who teach in the humanities, like myself, it’s harder to decide who makes the grade. There is no black and white, only gray.

That’s why in Creative Writing, Drama, and Art, I’ve done three things to make grading easier:

1. I’m up front with my expectations, be it a rubric or checklist or a “Hey! Here’s the skill I’m looking for! If you show me you can do it, you get an ‘A!’”

2. I always offer second chances. Paint may not be forgiving, but I am.

3. I grade each student on personal growth. I start off looking where my students are, set small, measurable goals, and celebrate when they surpass them.

Then comes the tough part. Entering the grades into my online gradebook, PowerTeacher. Since I started teaching 10 years ago, the way we report grades has changed dramatically. I used to fill in bubbles with pencil on a dot matrix sheet at the end of the quarter. I had to write and send letters to parents when a student was slipping. Now, I easily glide through entering scores online and parents can view them right away. (The problem is I seldom sit down in front of a computer. An app would be nice!)

I’ve turned intense end-of-trimester grade entry into a positive experience by listening to music in the background and rewarding myself with a snack when I finish. I’ve also changed my attitude about the grading process by thinking about it as spending a few one-on-one moments with each student. I examine progress and choose comments reflecting that on progress reports. This is my chance to offer up a little prayer for each one of them, particularly focusing on some of the struggles I know they’re facing.

So, as the trimester wraps up for my Catholic school and college educator friends, I wish you the best of luck in getting through this daunting task. Crank up the Christmas tunes, have a cupcake waiting in the kitchen and remember that you’re offering each of your students a few minutes of your time.   

November 30, 2016 02:01
By Robyn Barberry

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