She is the school’s chief storyteller and cheerleader, but Erin Barnes’ own story has some incredible twists and turns of its own.
At an early age, Barnes’ life seemed to be headed in one direction; up.
“We were pretty influent from 2nd grade to about my 7th-grade year, we enjoyed racing horses and going to dinner parties,” Barnes said.
However, that life was suddenly turned upside down when the man who provided them a solid life left. Her mother was divorced and the affluence gave way to poverty.
“We went from having a courtyard to living on the other side of the railroad tracks,” Barnes said.
Life was never stable and homelessness was the new reality. This meant middle-of-the-night moves, crashing on couches and motel rooms. That instability took its toll in school as well. While she loved learning, some lessons were more difficult.
Math was the subject that was the most troubling. At the time her solution was to cheat. But the cheating wouldn’t last and when she was called out on the aced assignments but failed tests Barnes decided to turn away from school. She became a high school dropout.
“Life was pretty unpredictable, we were homeless several times, moved in with lots of boyfriends in and around that time” Barnes said.
Eventually she would earn her GED because she wanted to go to college. However, her unstable upbringing kept fighting back.
She bounced from major to major at Oklahoma State University. “That’s when OSU kindly asked me not to come back next semester,” Barnes said.
Her story could have stalled there, but Barnes took a part-time job in a public school as a paraprofessional helping a teacher who taught outside the box. It was in that classroom she learned her difficulties learning weren’t as isolating as her past would have made them seem.
“I was watching her differentiate through this classroom, and I also understood fractions for the first time” Barnes said.
Finding inspiration from a teacher teaching students with different learning styles in their own unique way inspired Barnes to go back to college. This time around though, she had a focus. She was going to be a teacher.
These days, Barnes is all about teaching outside of the box and is all about making sure each student learns in a way that’s best for them. The belief that “school can be different” brought her to the newly formed EPIC Charter Schools where she was one of the school’s very first teachers.
Now Barnes says the challenges of her life are not something she runs from. Instead she can see those challenges are to be embraced because each obstacle formed the mold that made her who she is today.