Whether it’s in the classroom, around the city or on the rink, Barb Haugen has been part of education in Hutchinson since 1980.
As she begins her retirement following the end of another year teaching English at New Century Academy, she reflected on the hats she wore during the past 39 years. Many likely know her from her 16 years at the charter public school, but others may recognize Haugen’s name from her 22 years with Hutchinson Parks, Recreation and Community Education.
The variety in her career stems back to her time in college. While pursuing a future in education, she worked to pay the bills by setting up volleyball nets, lifeguarding and instructing swimming.
“My supervisor then wasn’t much older than me. I was and asked if I’d consider a career in public recreation because there weren’t many women,” Haugen said.
She loved the work and agreed to make the switch. When she moved to Hutchinson with her husband, Marv, they weren’t sure they would both find a job in public recreation. He went to work at the skating rink and she started work as a paraprofessional for Hutchinson Public Schools.
“I loved it,” Haugen said. “It reminded me I did want to do this (education).”
She continued helping Hutchinson Parks, Recreation and Community Education where she was needed. Her background in competitive skating led to a position as an instructor for the figure skating program. Eventually, her work with PRCE grew into a full-time position.
“I always thought I knew everyone under 18 and over 60,” Haugen said. “Those were my clients. It was a career that was very good to me. I met a lot of fun people.”
While she enjoyed her PRCE job, something kept calling her back to education. It came to a head when she heard a radio interview with students of the year-old New Century Academy.
“They talked about their field trips. They were so excited and it was so refreshing,” Haugen said. “I didn’t waste too many days. I walked over and asked if they had any positions open, and there I was.”
She started as a paraprofessional as she returned to school for her teaching license. Ultimately, she earned her master’s degree in education. As an English teacher, she covered reading, writing and speaking.
When Haugen was first at NCA, the school operated out of the learning center at HTI’s campus on Hutchinson’s northeast side.
“It was a beautiful space,” she said, “with nice classrooms.”
Haugen was part of the School Board when NCA moved to Fifth Avenue and shared a newly constructed building with New Discoveries Montessori Academy in 2008. Each school had a wing and shared common spaces such as offices and a gym.
Then three years ago she was invited by school director Jason Becker to walk through the former Word of Life Church.
“He (is) our fourth director, and he and I have been there the longest,” Haugen said. “He wanted to know what I thought.”
Plans were in the works to move NCA to the building, an idea that came to fruition before the 2017-18 school year.
“I thought, ‘This will be an exciting space for education to take place,’” Haugen said. “A year later we are in there, starting the Back to School Night. We didn’t have interior doors and windows yet but I told them, ‘This is going to be our greatest year ever,’ and it was a great year.”
She believes the extra space serves NCA’s project-based learning approach.
“There is room to grow and experiment,” she said. “We are a project-based school. That is our MO. It had been stifled by space and former directors who maybe didn’t see the opportunity there as being manageable. Here we have the space where students can go and create and build. We’re messy. Project-based learning isn’t quiet. It’s not neat and tidy.”
Love for New Century
During the past 16 years, Haugen has taught roughly 2,100 students. They’re what she will miss the most.
“They make me laugh. They make me wonder,” she said. “They frustrate me, but they are so rejuvenating.”
She’s proud of how accepting the students are of each other. Kids may start unhappy about sitting next to each other, but that changes.
“You go drive by our school and at the end of the day you see all kinds of characters tumble out,” Haugen said. “But they have one thing in common, which is that by November they understand each other. Their patience and understanding is quite remarkable. There is little or no bullying.”
She fondly remembers all the times students brought her their college acceptance letters or showed her their college testing scores.
“I have texts saved in my phone from 2009 with ACT scores,” Haugen said. “I see many former students regularly for a cup of coffee.”
Because NCA is a small, intimate school, Haugen knows it stands out when students have issues. But she knows the students to be a diverse group.
“These are kids who are going to be fine in any school, but they come to New Century,” she said. “They might have been a back-row student, but they are discovered at New Century. They become front-row students. Whether they are an artist or mathematician, they are discovered and they can flourish.”