A Momentous Occasion for Barrow
Montgomery County High School (MCHS) Class of 2019 graduate Zachary Barrow chose to remain teaching in the classroom rather than to celebrate earning his Bachelor’s Degree at the traditional Georgia Southern University commencement this past December; however, he never could have imagined the surprise graduation that his students, coworkers, and family would hold in his honor. “My main priorities in life are my faith, my family, and my school, in that order. God just so happened to have placed me in a school system that aligns with my beliefs and supports their teachers any chance they get,” he remarked.
Son of Montgomery County High School Teacher Melissa Barrow and Montgomery County Middle/High School Principal Dr. Scott Barrow, Zachary recognized the importance in “showing up” for his students from long before his college graduation.
“My decision to skip graduation had been on my mind since my freshman year at Georgia Southern. I am, and always will be, an Eagle, but using the ideals passed on to me through my parents I knew that my life would not be defined by four years at a university. Instead, it would be defined by my impact on my students and my community through hard work, compassion, and the right priorities. When the choice of attending my graduation or utilizing that day for instruction and providing stability in my classroom, I knew what I needed to do. Sixth grade students thrive in environments with routines, stability, and consistency. My absence would have disrupted each of these,” he explained.
Barrow said that his passion for his students comes from a divine calling, as he shared the origin of his career path. “I, like many kids, was told that I could be anything I wanted. However, when God places something on your heart, it would be foolish of me to deny that calling,” he emphasized.
“My entire childhood has been spent on a school campus; from going on football and wrestling trips with my dad to sitting in on graduation test preparation with my mom, I have experienced so many facets of education from the grassroots level up to the plight of those in the board office. With this in mind, I knew that using my talents to help kids in Title 1 schools was exactly what I was meant to do.”
The young teacher has been placed at William James Middle School in Statesboro, where he served as a “teacher of record” last semester, meaning he was fulfilling his student teaching requirements while also serving as a full-time employee of the school. Barrow is the sole teacher of 6th grade social studies classes — an accomplishment that was only possible through the help of a “head start” in his college education.
“My degree is middle school education with certification in social studies and mathematics. Through dual enrollment while I was in high school, I was able to get a slight head start in my college education right across the street at Brewton Parker College. This allowed me to finish my bachelor's degree in Statesboro in 3 1/2 years,” he detailed. “Thankfully, I had a wonderful support team with my fellow teachers, administrators, and parents that have prepared me for such a role throughout my entire life.”
It is the close atmosphere of the school system that Barrow said further inspired him to be absent for his formal college graduation. “I could not be happier with the school at which I am employed; the family atmosphere, the continuous daily support, and the camaraderie is unmatched,” he commented. “The community of Statesboro, Bulloch County, and the entire 912 area code has shown me nothing but love. I am incredibly proud and humbled to be a part of such an incredible community.”
That community is equally appreciative of Barrow, which is why when the opportunity arose to host a “secret” graduation for the graduate, the school quickly got to work.
“The day of my graduation started like any other,” he reminisced. “We greeted students at the door, completed our class work, and watched the clock hoping it would magically hit 3:27 soon. I was called into an IEP meeting and heard some strange noises coming from the cafeteria. Not thinking much of it, I continued with the meeting and tried to focus. At this point, I could feel a different energy coming from the hallway and even within the room the meeting was taking place.”
He continued, “Finally, Ms. Annie Albritton, a WJMS legend, walks in and asks for me to come with her. Her wink to the others in the meeting helped me to begin putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Finally, we walked into the cafeteria to see the entire 6th grade class cheering for me in front of my principal who, in full graduation regalia, welcomed me in and began his speech in front of cameras, teachers, and almost 200 students. My William James Middle School family had planned a private graduation to honor my accomplishment. My classroom neighbor, Dee Hudgens, took an idea and ran with it, leading to one of the most special moments of my life.”
Barrow was presented with a private graduation celebration, surrounded by his family, students, and coworkers. He said that this special graduation made the celebration even more momentous, as he truly celebrated with the people and environment he cares most about.
“If given the opportunity to do it all over again, I would not change a thing about my decision to skip graduation,” he assured. “The secret graduation was amazing, but I would have stayed back regardless. My life is not in Paulson Stadium around thousands of people that I don't know; my life is here, with my William James family. It warms my heart to know that I am cared for so much that my students, fellow teachers, and administrators were willing to give up their time and effort to make my day special.”