Class of 2019 names Barber as Marian P. Kelly award recipient


Courtesy of Susan Barber

Barber sits, surrounded by the class of 2019 in their future college shirts on decision day.

Katie Dwyer, Writer

“Dedicated, genuine, and supported.” These were the words used to describe this year’s Marian P. Kelly award recipient. Kelly, who passed on Feb. 11 this year, was one of Grady’s first African American teachers when she came in 1970,  and eventually served as the Language Arts department chair.

In order to honor her legacy, the Class of 2019 has nominated their favorite teacher from their entire high school experience to receive an award named after her.

This year, the class honored AP Literature teacher, Susan Barber, as the winner of the Marian P. Kelly award. Barber has only worked at Grady for one year but has won the heart of many students through her unique teaching methods and by adding fun into the everyday classroom life.

“Her classroom atmosphere is very different from most classes at Grady,” senior Abby Challas said. “Some days we spend the whole class writing essays and completing multiple choice questions, other days we make pancakes, drink coffee, and talk about life.”

Like Kelly, Barber served as the department chair of Language Arts at Northgate High School. However, Barber dropped this in order to have a fresh start at Grady.

“I had been a school for ten years and it was great and I loved it, but I was feeling a little comfortable in my job and just wanted to push myself to grow a little more and expose myself to some different ideas and rethink my teaching: how I taught, who I taught, and why I taught,” Barber said. “I thought if I moved to a school that was different than where I was, that it would really force me to wrestle through some of those things and I thought that would help me grow.“  

Compared to past schools that Barber has worked at, Grady has proven to be the most diverse, giving her a new environment with lots of different beliefs to learn.

“Grady’s a lot more diverse in a lot of different ways, not just racially but socioeconomically,” Barber said. “Also just the wide variety of beliefs that you find her and ideologies, and I think the thing that makes it a lot of fun is all of the different activities and clubs and sports you can get involved in that you don’t really have at other schools. Most schools don’t have ultimate frisbee or debate teams…”

Barber’s class has proven to be not only an environment where students can learn but also where students can have fun and be themselves. Many students have had many of their favorite high school memories in her class.

“My favorite memory was my last class with her,” Challas said, “We made pancakes and did paper plate awards. It was such a great way to end the year.”

Others cannot pick out a specific favorite memory because there are too many to choose from.

“It’s hard to give a specific favorite memory from her class because each day is so different,” senior Kelley Downes said. “She’s really good at keeping her students engaged and on their toes, but any day where she makes pancakes or coffee is a pretty good one.”

The students at Grady have also had a major impact on Barber.

“They [the senior class] took it upon themselves to teach me how to fit in and do things the ‘Grady Way.’ Every Time it would be Wednesday, I would be like ‘It’s writing Wednesday, we’re going to write every Wednesday,’ they would be like ‘Oh, no, we don’t write on Wednesdays, that’s not the Grady Way, you can’t do things like that.’ So they were really all about educating on the Grady Way and I think they were trying to pull one over on me, but I love them anyway.”

In addition to her unique classroom atmosphere, Barber has worked especially hard to prepare her students for the AP literature exam.

“Every week, we would have to practice writing, which isn’t exactly fun, but that practice is the reason I felt more confident on the AP lit test than I have on any other AP test,” Downes said. “Mrs. Barber would give us solid feedback to improve our essays and practicing this every week helped us to gauge just how our writing was improving.”

Many students believe that Barber’s understanding nature and kindness has lead her to achieve this award, but has also lead her to be the majority favorite teacher of the senior class.

“Another thing about Mrs. Barber is that it’s obvious she really cares about her students,” Downes said. “She’s always checking up on the sports teams. She goes to Grady drama productions. She lets the debate kids have some time in class to practice anything we need to before a big tournament.”


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