Tuesday, October 3, 2017
Priscilla A. Greear - Florida Catholic
MIAMI SHORES | In Margaret Barbick’s third grade class at St. Rose of Lima School, pupils studied alongside caped crusaders from Wonder Woman to Superman. They swooped up to the Empire State Building to earn treasure chest coupons for good behavior, stashed supplies in superhero seat sacs and donned their own capes for service as table captain. They also studied heroes of faith for All Saints Day, wrote essays on superheroes in their own lives and reflected on how they too can fly high in service to Christ.
“Of course, you have to catch their attention, so we’d talk about Superman, Batman and all those crazy guys and then we’d talk about people in the Bible who are superheroes,” said Barbick of her decades-long classroom theme and the bulletin board with images of Moses, Mary and other biblical figures. “We talked about how they are superheroes in our lives. And we talk about being a superhero in your faith.”
A superhero educator herself in the Miami Shores community, Barbick hung up her cape in June after teaching 43 years at St. Rose. In her final third grade class of 27, she taught five children of former students. Married to fellow educator John Barbick, a 38-year science teacher at Miami Country Day School, she looks forward in retirement to spending more time with her own three children and four grandchildren.
“The last day I balled. The very last day I had parents coming in from various different years, and it was overwhelming, just the knowledge that it was it. Not that I didn’t welcome it because I was welcoming a new journey, but I felt it,” said Barbick, 65. “I can close my eyes and see all those children, I really can.”
Amy Zibelli had Barbick for second grade and three of her four children had her for third. Her youngest had her this past year.
“Even up to the last year she always was happy walking into the class, doing it like it was her first day,” Zibelli said.
“She’s probably the most loved out of the elementary years of anybody that had her,” she added, noting the tight-knit St. Rose and Miami Shores community. “She just has that special ingredient that makes her a truly exceptional teacher. She loves her job, she has a passion. She loved every student and she makes learning fun.”
Growing up in Galveston, Texas, Barbick joined the future teachers club at her Catholic school. A devout child, she fondly recalls her family Christmas tradition of visiting Nativity scenes at all the city’s churches. She graduated from Catholic St. Edward’s University in Austin, taught a year, married and then two weeks later moved to Miami.
On Aug. 15, 1974 she began teaching a class of about 35 children at her husband’s alma mater St. Rose of Lima, a fixture in Northeast Miami-Dade since 1951.
“It’s scary when you start your first teaching position and you were coming to a new city, a new school, a new state, you’re newly married. But the support of the faculty was just sort of what made everything right, the support of the Adrian Dominican sisters and the priest,” recalled the affable educator. “The same Christian spirit that I felt when I was walking down these hallways in 1974 is still prevalent today.”
Her fondest memories were preparing second graders for first Communion. “This was the first time for them to receive the Body of Christ and go to confession and to meet Jesus through the priest. That to me definitely was the most rewarding, being a big part of the sacramental program and working with the Adrian Dominican and IHM Sisters.”
The school faced turmoil with its decision in 2016 to replace with lay leadership the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who had served there since 1981. Brenda Cummings served as principal in 2016 and Stephen Brown assumed the position in July.
“It does tug at your heart,” said Barbick, “but I wish you could meet Dr. Stephen Brown. You just look at him and he exudes his faith as did Brenda Cummings. So that’s what we have to do in the world today,” she added, noting the declining numbers of priests and religious. “[Lay people] have to step up, and we do have to do what the sisters were doing and be faith examples to our community.”
Religion teacher Mary Swan called Barbick a “wonderful listener” who gave kids the option at the end of the day to share personal stories.
“I think she challenges her students but she’s very encouraging to them and she really takes an interest in each student as an individual,” said Swan, whose four daughters were taught by Barbick. “And when you think 43 years in one school, she’s almost like a super hero teacher. You just don’t hear about people being 43 years in the classroom, so clearly it was more than a job for her.”
For academics, Barbick incorporated games like “Jeopardy” and drilled rhymes and jingles to teach multiplication tables.
“My daughter said for seven it’s the tune of ‘happy birthday’ so whenever a friend celebrates a birthday they always sing the seven times table,” Swan said.
St. Rose assistant principal and 33-year colleague Celine Zigmont said Barbick inspired everyone.
“She was an excellent role model not just to the children but to her peers … Mostly she cared so much about the children, wanted them to succeed, always instilled in them that they could do anything if they just tried. She worked with slower children to help them get up to speed. She worked with children who had difficulties to learn how to manage themselves,” Zigmont said. “Our principals have said over the years that if you want to see good teaching, ask Margaret if you can sit in on her class.”
Reflecting on Catholic education’s future, Barbick said schools must stay true to their core mission while continually upgrading their academic curriculum and other offerings in light of increasing competition from charters and magnets.
“You’ve got to make sure you step up your game, you definitely do — but not give up any of your faith-based traditions,” she said. “I think what’s very important is we haven’t forgotten the reason why we are here. I just look at myself as a product of Catholic education.”