Paying it Forward

By the time she graduated from high school, Sabrina Barnes knew she wanted to be a teacher. Now one semester away from graduating with her teaching degree, Barnes is pioneering a new path as the first in her family who will graduate from college. Once she earns her teaching certificate, she plans to head back to the classroom, first to teach young elementary students and, as her career progresses, to attain an advanced degree, pursuing her calling to “raise up others.”

Fittingly, among the many factors that have helped Barnes along her way is a tuition scholarship provided through a bequest from a Black woman who served as a teacher her entire professional life – more than 40 years. That special fund is overseen through the Episcopal Church Foundation’s Endowment Management program. Barnes is attending St. Augustine’s University, one of only two historically Black colleges still affiliated with the Episcopal Church. Chartered in 1867 in Raleigh, North Carolina, “St. Aug’s” was founded by the Episcopal Church to educate Black teachers. The four-year liberal arts university now offers baccalaureate degrees in more than 20 majors and 12 departments in three academic schools.

According to Sheryl Ximenes, director of alumni affairs and university events at St. Aug’s, that scholarship allows Barnes to “focus on being a great teacher, and it pushes her to be a better student.” Ximenes reports that a typical St. Aug.’s student can graduate owing $20,000 to $30,000 in education loans. Barnes has worked hard to keep her promise to herself to avoid going into debt. Scholarship dollars offer both financial relief and encouragement to become an educator.

This semester Barnes is serving an internship in a local Raleigh elementary school, observing. Next semester, her last, she will be practice teaching. “I am finally going to be doing something I’ve wanted to do all my life,” she said, describing the joy of interacting with young elementary students. She delights in seeing them encountering “new words, building sentences, and responding with their own definitions.” She hopes one day to become a principal. Currently, she’s concerned about “working on my voice – getting louder!” she chuckled.

Barnes will be the first education major to graduate from St. Aug’s in two years. While teachers are much in demand across the nation, in recent years many students have chosen to focus on the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math), which promise higher lifetime incomes. Interim chair for St. Aug’s education department Nicole Lee noted that education majors also face considerable additional expenses before they can pursue their career – licensing fees, qualifying tests, portfolio expenses, and practicum requirements that other graduates don’t encounter.

Lee said that targeted scholarships allow education majors to receive aid to deal with those financial barriers. And, Ximines added, such financial aid can “open the gate of education as a major,” allowing education to compete with the more trendy business, criminal justice, and STEM fields. “[Education] is coming back around,” she said. “They’re starting to pay better, and students are looking at it being a career.”

“As a professor and chair of her department, I want to say how valuable [Sabrina] is to us,” Lee said. “In her work study, she assists faculty, getting books, making copies. She’s eager to help. And she is a peer mentor to other students, [sharing] how she got through some of the tests. She helps other students know it’s possible.” Barnes recognizes that future-focused donors have created scholarships like the one she has received, making a difference beyond the walls of St. Aug’s. “I’d like to thank them for being generous,” she said. “They are helping my life and my students’ lives.”

Photo: Sabrina Barnes, St. Augustine’s University Class of 2021. Photo courtesy of St. Augustine’s University

Demi Prentiss is a Program Consultant in the Endowment Management division of Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF), offering support to dioceses and congregations in structuring and growing their endowments. Previously, she served five years as ministry developer for the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, partnering with individuals and congregations in that re-organizing diocese to re-imagine how to be the church. She has served a brief stint on the Presiding Bishop’s staff as Program Officer for Lay Leadership, and spent many years as a ministry developer in congregations varying from family to resource size. She holds degrees from Seabury-Western and Harvard, and is author, with Fletcher Lowe, of Radical Sending: Go to Love and Serve. She lives in Denton, TX, where she has built a practice as a life and leadership coach for leaders in congregations and non-profit organizations.