Smart, loving, fun: these are some of the words that describe favorite teachers and mentors. They leave a lasting mark on our lives and help us become who we aspire to be. One such teacher, Sister Barbara Kraus, is celebrating 50 years of educating, inspiring and encouraging her students to success, and she's right here in New Iberia!
Sister Barbara is a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) and was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. An avid reader, dancer, and New Orleans Saints fan, Sister Barbara brings life and joy into her classroom, and credits her own teachers- who were SSND sisters- as her inspiration. She remembers how fun they made school for the students, and after seeing how much they enjoyed teaching, she decided "I wanted to have fun, too!”
Having found her calling at a young age, Sister Barbara and a few high school classmates took religious studies classes while enrolled in boarding school to learn more about becoming a sister. After graduation, she entered the convent and took her vows two years later in 1964. Sister Barbara received her first classroom training in St. Louis, Missouri, before moving on to teaching in Texas, where she worked for the majority of her teaching career.
Teaching can be difficult work, often requiring you to be on your feet all day. In the late 1980’s, the SSND made the decision to switch from their large habits and heavy robes to more secular dress. This change of pace came as a relief to Sister Barbara, and she recalled "those habits were hot as heck!” The difference in dress allowed for more comfort in and out of the classroom, and cut down on an expensive dry-cleaning bill.
Today, Sister Barbara is the Executive Director of the Progressive Education Program, Inc., here in New Iberia Louisiana. Originally started by Southern Mutual Help Association, Inc. (SMHA) in 1971 as the first adult education program for farm workers, PEPI now runs independently from SMHA and serves approximately 200 students each year in Iberia Parish.
Before assuming the role of Executive Director seven years ago, Sister Barbara worked as an instructor in the computer lab, teaching students much needed computer skills. She acknowledges the need for education saying, "[it] is the ‘key’ to a quality of life.”
Under her tenure with PEPI, hundreds of adults have furthered their education, some going on to pursue secondary education or enjoy a wider variety of career options. In the spring of 2013, PEPI began offering two sections of its classes each week, allowing more people than ever to complete the courses necessary for graduation. PEPI’s graduates and programs have been featured in the Daily Iberian, and in December 2013, PEPI was recognized as one of ten New Iberia "Help the Helpers”, under this campaign that draws attention to local organizations who are helping to improve the lives of Iberia Parish residents.
Sister Barbara’s commitment to helping others improve their quality of life by helping themselves compliments SMHA’s own philosophy of creating sustainable solutions to problems. SMHA is proud to have Sister Barbara as a member of their Board of Directors and congratulate her on this wonderful milestone of service!