Welcome to the ACE Alumni Spotlight, where we highlight our alumni and share their stories.
Erin Barr is a community-driven educator who teaches beyond classroom curricula by inspiring students to give back. She graduated with an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction in 2012 and won a $100 donation to the charity of her choice as part of the 2022 ACE Month of Impact. This was after she and her students led their community to donate over 400 pounds of food to their local food bank. We were excited to learn about her selfless efforts and how she empowers students to do the same.
ACE: ACE has celebrated its Month of Impact campaign for the past few years to better serve our communities. How does it feel, and why is it important to be part of an organization that serves others?
Erin Barr (EB): I’m so excited to be an alumna of an institution that regularly reaches out to me and genuinely cares about our communities. In fact, I receive more communication from ACE than from my undergraduate institution where I attended in person and in my state. It’s special to be part of a community and continue a relationship with a school and program that I’m passionate about.
ACE: Last year, you donated 432 pounds of food to the Great Falls Community Food Bank in Great Falls, Montana. What led you to serve there?
EB: Our superintendent at the Montana School for the Deaf and the Blind wanted to start a volunteering program for students to serve our community on their early-release days that occur every few weeks. As a teacher, I worried about students being out of the classroom too often and struggling with change. I thought about it and decided it was a great idea, so I offered to coordinate the program, which we call ELVS: Experiential Learning and Volunteering with Students.
The beginning of the school year can be difficult for families in crisis to have food, and I know it can be taxing to ask our students and staff to donate during this time. So, we had our middle and high school students join with staff and set up food collection opportunities at two different Albertsons stores in our town. We advertised on our local radio station, posted on Facebook and put posters on the tables. In 90 minutes, we collected 432 pounds of food for the Great Falls Community Food Bank!
ACE: You won a donation of $100 to an organization of your choice as part of ACE Month of Impact, and you chose the Mission Valley Animal Shelter. Why did you choose that organization?
EB: I knew that Mission Valley Animal Shelter needed donations at the time, and a few of my colleagues and I have adopted pets from there. I wanted to help them continue to serve pets and people in need as they also offer free food and low-cost spay and neuter certificates.
ACE: Do you plan to participate in ACE Month of Impact this year? If so, where will you be serving?
EB: I do plan to participate again this year! Our ELVS group will be continuing through this school year, and while I’m not sure exactly where we’ll be serving, we have several different groups that we plan to work with.
ACE: How has community service shaped your perspective on the world and your role within the community?
EB: Community service, especially with students, has really opened my eyes to local struggles and the resources that are available. Each time I go out with a group of students, I’m inspired by how selflessly they give and how they grow. Students that may have started out tentative about diving in are now showing improved communication skills and self-esteem. I’ve also learned and grown in so many ways from ELVS. I can see that as I move forward with my teaching career that I will always find ways to engage students in community service activities that we can all enjoy and learn from together.
ACE: What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved in community service but may not know where to begin?
EB: Always be open to suggestions from others for volunteering ideas. When I’ve run out of ideas, I’ve been fortunate to get ideas from organizations that we’ve worked with before. I also send out surveys to staff and students asking for suggestions for community service. Our local United Way has been very helpful as well.
ACE: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
EB: It’s important to know and understand your students, families and their values. Students are more interested in participating when it’s an activity they care about. Pet shelters are of high interest with many of my students, and these activities are a great way to start to then expand to other areas that might be of lesser interest. Some students have actually discovered career aspirations that they hadn’t thought of before! Also, sometimes, if your student population is mostly lower socioeconomic, buy-in for food and clothing drives can be difficult. These students may be food insecure, and these types of school drives can be embarrassing or may lead to indifference. Instead, find creative ways that students can serve that work for your school population.
ACE Month of Impact is celebrated each September, and the college encourages all to participate and commit to serving both people and planet. Remember, being an American College of Education alumni has its perks. When you return as an alumni for another program, you can save 5% off your tuition with the Alumni Continuing Education Grant.