“I can’t imagine doing a different job, I really love being here,” said Amy Eikenbary-Barber, spanish teacher at Minnehaha.
After nine total years of teaching at Minnehaha, Eikenbary-Barber has announced her departure. “As I’ve started saying goodbye and thinking about leaving, I realize that this is a really good place,” she said, “and I have to just be honest and say that I am going to grieve the loss of community, of my students, and of what I really enjoy doing, and that is teaching Spanish.”
The experiences that have led Eikenbary-Barber to her leaving all contributed unique and profound influences on her career as an educator.
Eikenbary-Barber’s love for the Spanish language took root in Mexico, where she lived as a sophomore through a study abroad program at her college, North Park University. “I really fell in love with the people and fell in love with the language,” she said. “I just really enjoyed connecting with people and using the language as a vehicle for connection.”
While interacting and connecting with people throughout Mexico, Eikenbary-Barber discovered her passion: helping others. After her return to the United States, she worked with World Relief in Chicago to assist Latino immigrant families in the process of becoming U.S. citizens.
“I filled out immigration paperwork, took peoples’ fingerprints, took peoples’ photos, and I helped them navigate the bureaucracy of doing immigration applications,” she said. “It was really fun, because I got to help people become citizens. When people are citizens they have more rights, they have a little bit more permanence in the country.”
Eikenbary-Barber continued to diversify her cultural knowledge in 1997, when her husband, Ryan, accepted a job as head pastor of Bethlehem Covenant Church in Minneapolis, only two blocks from Minnehaha. “We moved here to Minneapolis and I transferred to this World Relief office.” However, because the Minneapolis World Relief office did not offer a program working with Latino families, Eikenbary-Barber took a new position helping refugees.
“I worked with people from all over the world,” she said. “I would help them find housing, clothing and food. I would get their kids enrolled in school, help them find heathcare, just kind of help them to establish themselves in the US.”
Here, Eikenbary-Barber found happiness in the well-being of others. However, after four years of working with World Relief, something didn’t feel right. “I was starting to feel a little tired,” she said, “and I was starting to feel like I wasn’t able to be myself anymore.”
As she started to look for change and explore other possibilities of employment, Eikenbary-Barber was presented with a pristine opportunity.
“There was a position that opened up here at Minnehaha,” she said. “I thought ‘Fabulous. I would love to try that for a while. I probably won’t do it for forever, but I would enjoy doing it for a while.’” She was hired to teach spanish in 1999.
“What happened was that after I got hired I found that I really loved teaching,” she said. “While I was here I also completed my master’s degree.”
Eikenbary-Barber taught at Minnehaha for five years, but left in 2002, when she and her husband moved to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
“We set up folding chairs in a YMCA and started a church,” she said. This church, Anchor Covenant, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.
After living in Wisconsin for seven years, the Eikenbary-Barber family moved back to Minnesota. One Sunday, after her return, Eikenbary-Barber was informed of a part-time job opening at Minnehaha. She promptly applied.
“We knew the kind of work she had done when she was here, so that was an easy hire,” said Minnehaha Principal Nancy Johnson. “When you know the kind of work that she has done in the classroom and with students, and you know that it has been good work, and that she has done well with her students, it makes you want to sit up and take notice and perhaps hire her again if there’s the opportunity.”
Returning to Minnehaha in 2009, Eikenbary-Barber felt right at home.
“When I was hired for a second time, I was warmly accepted. In fact, I loved working with other staff members. I feel like I really had a community of people encourage me. It’s fun to have a job where you learn every day along with your students, so I really felt like I found those things at Minnehaha.”
With experience teaching different levels of spanish, Eikenbary-Barber taught multiple spanish classes, including AP Spanish 5.
Each year, to help alleviate the strenuous workload, a Spanish Amity is hosted by Minnehaha. These native speakers are involved in the classroom by running activities, teaching concepts and working with Eikenbary-Barber.
Bonnie Gomez, the current Spanish Amity, is from Colombia; the thousands of miles separating her from her home had provoked unease.
“At first, I was scared. It’s a completely different experience,” she said. “[Eikenbary-Barber] has helped me the entire year. She has helped me become more comfortable as a teacher and also made me more confident as a human being. I’m really young, and many of the teachers here have kids my age. She always has been a friend to me.”
“[Eikenbary-Barber] a really good educator,” Gomez continued. “She’s the kind of person that is always trying to read new topics and try new strategies with the kids. She’s really patient, and she really loves what she does. She is always calm, even when classes don’t work the way they should. She thinks that everything can always improve.”
However, to the dismay of the Minnehaha community, 2014-2015 school year will be Eikenbary-Barber’s last.
“My husband really felt called to a church in Washington state, called Bethany Covenant Church,” she said. “It’s a church that he is really uniquely gifted to lead right now,” she said. “It’s also in a state where he grew up, and his dad still lives there, and his brother. So we felt like we really needed to take seriously the opportunity even though we weren’t looking to leave, we really felt like God was sending us there.”
After six consecutive years teaching at Minnehaha, nine in all, Eikenbary-Barber will enter a new stage of her life in Mount Vernon, Washington.
“We went out [to Washington] for my husband to do an interview for a candidate weekend, and I ended up surprised to find myself interviewing for a job,” she said. “So my husband got his job on Sunday, and on Monday I had an interview. The next week they Skyped me, and I found out that I had a job the following week, teaching.”
Eikenbary-Barber will be teaching Spanish at a public school and will work with heritage speakers who hope to improve their skills or knowledge of the language. And, staying true to Gomez’s praise on her work ethic, Eikenbary-Barber plans to add an AP course to the school’s curriculum.
“What’s going to be the hardest thing in leaving,” Eikenbary-Barber said, “will be everything. I have found nothing but collegiality from the other faculty members and from the administration. Everyone really wants the best for the school and the best for the students. I think people are here because they really love this place and they really love what goes on.”
Saying goodbye to a community––a home––is certainly not easy, but Eikenbary-Barber will not be forgotten. The unparalleled work she has conducted within Minnehaha’s Spanish Department has set a standard for years to come.
“We can’t replace her,” said Johnson. “We can only carry on the work that she started in that area, and I know that there are a lot of students that are going to miss her.”