Grade 8 teacher Jon Barnes with Cameron Haughey.
Below, the teacher encourages students at cross country meets by riding ahead of them in a bunny costume.

By Kathy Rowe and Cameron Haughey

When my neighbour Cameron Haughey approached me to write an article about his Grade 8  teacher I took notice. “He’s such an amazing person,” exclaimed Cameron. My response was “Absolutely, let’s do this together.” Within a couple of weeks Cameron and I found ourselves sitting in the principal’s office at Joseph Howe S.P.S. firing our prepared questions at Jon Barnes.

Jon has been teaching for 23 years and for the past 11 years his positive and energetic personality has been benefitting the students and staff at Joseph Howe Senior Public School. A huge lover of sports, Jon runs a myriad of after-school sports teams at the school, including cross country, boys volleyball, girls volleyball, badminton and ski club.

“The big reason I run these sports is that the kids really appreciate it,” Jon explained. “They don’t always say the thank you, but we see it in their eyes and in their actions.”

The Toronto Board of Education incorporates character education into the curriculum, which is an aspect of education that Jon clearly holds in high regard. “It’s not only about having a cross country team that is very successful, it’s also about the commitment, determination and perseverance and teamwork. We don’t want to just make smart kids, we want to make good kids,” he said.

When asked which school sport he enjoys leading the most, without hesitation he said cross country. “It’s my favourite because every student can do cross country. We had 75 kids participating in cross country this year! I do as many sports as I can, and I have a ton of fun doing them!” he added with a big smile.

As a young student, Jon said that he was the kind of kid who would push himself through the day doing the academics, anxiously awaiting the 3:30 p.m. bell when he could play school sports. Jon really understands the students that have similar drives that help get them through the day.

When it comes to teaching in the classroom, Jon takes a lot of pleasure encouraging student participation in class discussion. Cameron agrees that these class discussions are inspiring. As an example, Jon’s geography class can quickly turn into an involved discussion about those societies around the globe that don’t have as much as we do here in Canada.

Jon tells his students that they need to look beyond themselves to really appreciate their own lives and make sense of the world around them. “My favourite quote is from Helen Keller:  ‘Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.’” He adds, “you can’t grow as a person if everything in life is easy.”

He uses this sentiment when working with students who struggle with the demands of sports, cross country in particular. Known to dress up in a bunny rabbit costume at cross country meets, Jon said that he created the persona 14 years ago to add fun to the cross country experience.

He dresses up in the bunny costume and rides a bike at the front of the runners all the way to the finish line. “I stand at the finish line and give the kids high fives and congratulations!”

Cameron added, “It’s what all the runners look forward to at the end of the race. It keeps them going.”

When asked what he would like students to take away with them after being in his class or on his teams, Jon said, “Be a good person. In my opinion, being a good person is just as if not more important than being a smart person. You get further in life and have a bigger impact in the world by being a good person with a big heart.”

It’s no wonder Jon’s students look up to him. He is truly an inspiration!