In the two years that Jimmy and Joan Barrentine have volunteered at Northside Elementary School, they have become part of the school family.
“They had just moved to the Clinton area in 2011 to join their daughter Jenifer who was already an employee at Northside,” said Principal Joy Tyner. “They told us they wanted to volunteer to help in any way they could at our school. At that time we had absolutely no idea the impact they would make.”
Teachers describe the Barrentines as “miracle workers” with English language learners. With the Barrentines’ help, students from Yemen, Portugal and India made significant growth in their reading skills and their confidence has soared.
“The Barrentines not only worked with my student Khai academically but built a relationship which helped him adjust to a new country, new friends and a new language,” said teacher Candi Clark. “Now, Khai is not only a confident reader but he’s confident enough to engage in conversations and ask questions.”
The Barrentines both say they aren’t looking for honors or recognition for their work. Helping the students is something they enjoy.
“English language learning is our area of expertise,” said Joan Barrentine. “When we offered to volunteer, helping the English language learners was a natural fit for us.”
Meredith Brown described the Barrentines as “an answer to prayer” for helping her student Mahdi.
“When Mahdi first came to my classroom, I had no idea how I would be able to reach out to him while still tending to the needs of the other 26 students in my classroom,” she said. “The progress Mahdi has made this year is nothing short of remarkable, which is mostly due to the patience, love and knowledge instilled upon him by Mr. and Mrs. Barrentine, so much so that Mahdi insisted on giving Mrs. Barrentine his Mother’s Day coupon booklet that we made in class.”
Jimmy Barrentine was born in Magee but spent most of his childhood in Pascagoula. He relocated to Crystal Springs his senior year of high school and met Joan. He went on to Mississippi College and earned a degree in religious studies while Joan went to Hinds Community College and into a career as a registered nurse. They married during their college years.
Soon after their graduations, they moved to Fort Worth, Texas so Jimmy Barrentine could continue his education. He graduated from Southwestern Theological Seminary.
He pastored a church in Texas for a while before he and Joan went into missions work full-time. After learning Spanish, they lived in the South American country of Paraguay, where their daughter Jenifer was born.
After seven years in Paraguay, they returned to the U.S. Joan Barrentine continued her career as a nurse and Jimmy Barrentine worked in several leadership positions with the Southern Baptist Convention. His work took the family to Arkansas, Texas and eventually Iowa.
Jimmy Barrentine served as Executive Director of the BCI with this same kind of dedication to the churches and people of Iowa. His characteristic humility shows when he says, “What it does not say is that there are times when I still miss Iowa. Too much credit given to us and too little taken by the classroom teachers and the students themselves. We are hardly “miracle workers,” but I do believe what our principal said. God has given us a new mission field.”
During the nine years they lived in Iowa, Jenifer was stricken with a debilitating disease, and Joan was her full-time nurse. Most of this time, Jenifer spent in a paraplegic state. Eventually God directed them to the right specialists who were able to successfully treat Jenifer and restore her to full health.
“In 2011, to our delight the Barrentines chose to retire and move to Clinton,” Tyner said. “They said they wanted to finish up their life together where they started it.”
Teachers say the Barrentines have been like grandparents for the school’s ELL students.
One student “has gone from a shy child who was unable to express thoughts in English to being animated with his English skills,” Tyner said. “He has learned the English alphabet; his letter sounds and is reading beginner-level books.”
Teacher Jan Halford said one student, Gurmanav, told her several times that he loves the Barrentines.
“I have seen Gurmanav’s reading fluency soar this spring semester as he has begun to work with the Barrentines,” she said. “He has developed so much self-esteem recently and I have witnessed his beautiful smile more frequently.”
Tyner said volunteers like the Barrentines make all the difference in the lives of students who are transitioning to a new culture and new environment.
“We are all so thankful for the Barrentines’ dedication to children and their expertise in the area of English language learning,” she said.