Lenoir YDC’s Dr. Eric Barnes Named JJ Teacher of the Year

Author: Jerry Higgins, Communications Officer

Dr. Eric Barnes was surprised and honored when he was notified of his selection as the Juvenile Justice section’s 2021 Teacher of the Year. After all, he felt plenty of teachers were worthy of the honor not only at Lenoir Youth Development Center, but at every statewide facility that worked during a pandemic.

Dr. Barnes, who teaches social studies at Lenoir YDC, was nominated by his peers. A packet of recommendations was forwarded to a committee for a review in Raleigh before a selection was made. Dr. Barnes received word of the selection during the Juvenile Justice Education Conference and then received his award not only in front of his co-workers but the students and three graduates who participated in the high school graduation in June.

“When I was nominated at Lenoir, I was surprised by it,” Dr. Barnes said. “I didn’t really think with all the quality educators in juvenile justice I’d have a shot at it. I’m very humbled by the recognition.”

Juvenile Justice Director of Education Adam Johnson said, “Since joining the team at Lenoir, it has been evident that Dr. Barnes has a passion for improving the outcomes for his students. We were excited to present him with this award to recognize his efforts and commitment that his students and colleagues see daily.”

Dr. Barnes has spent about three years at Lenoir YDC but is familiar with teaching in a correctional environment. For about 10 years while he taught at Lenoir Community College, he spent time teaching classes at Maury Correctional Institution, a close and medium custody adult male offender facility in Hookerton. He said he enjoyed the experience but eventually moved on to the Wayne County School system for 1.5 years before the Lenoir YDC position was available.

“Kinston is my home. When this position opened, I haven’t regretted it,” Dr. Barnes said. 

Under “normal” conditions, the classes in the youth development center are taught in classrooms. However, with COVID-19 restrictions, all teachers had to make changes on the fly and adapt day to day to more individual instruction. Dr. Barnes does all he can to provide adequate time with the students in their “pods” instead of a classroom.

“It’s difficult teaching in COVID. Do we get adequate time with the students? We’re trying to get them what they need, especially those students who need more assistance,” Dr. Barnes said. “A normal kindergarten through 12th grade experience does not work. We work to get foundational material to the students with time constraints.

“We don’t know day to day whether we are teaching in the unit or the classrooms. It helps that I work with really good people. We meet as a staff and go over things that are working. That’s really been helpful.”

Regional Principal Jeremiah Jackson said he is impressed about how much Dr. Barnes cares for his students.

“He makes time for them, even after-hours,” Jackson said. “He deals with them on an academic and social level. He tries to make sure they understand they are there for learning. He tries to instill a sense of purpose and dedication and tries to help them plan for their future. He wants them to understand they may have made a bad choice, but that will not dictate the rest of their lives.”

Dr. Barnes felt a sense of pride and accomplishment when he saw three youth graduate at Lenoir YDC. He understands the difficulties of providing a quality education outside of a YDC but to see the students fulfill the requirements for graduation like any student outside of a facility means a lot to him and other teachers.

“Graduation is a win for us and a sense of accomplishment for them,” he said. “That was a day big for us. We don’t get many graduates because we usually get a kid for nine months. To have kids finish big like that for us, when other students see it, maybe they think that they want that to be them.”


Top photo: 2021 Juvenile Justice Teacher of the Year Dr. Eric Barnes recognized with Principal Jeremiah Jackson (left) and Director of Education Adam Johnson (right).

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