Head of in-take team for school system

December 30th, 2010

Nathan Barge, MA ’99

Harrisonburg, Virginia

As director of the “Welcome Center” of the Harrisonburg public school system, Nathan Barge leads the team that registers, evaluates and places hundreds of incoming students. About half of these come from households that speak a language other than English. Barge himself speaks Spanish, in addition to his native English, having spent 14 years with his wife, Elaine, in Latin America as a volunteer with Mennonite Central Committee.

In the early 1990s, Nathan and Elaine led grassroots groups from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to Colombia to take classes with teachers and practitioners with the JustaPaz organization, four of whom helped shape CJP: John Paul Lederach, Vernon Jantzi, Ricardo Esquivia, and Paul Stucky. The older of two Barge daughters, Rebecca, was born in a war zone in El Salvador, and the family was almost killed when caught in a battle. Co-workers were imprisoned and interrogated. The family also lived through an earthquake.

Such experiences drove home the fragility of life and helped them to understand the common expression, “I will see you tomorrow, God willing.” Nathan entered EMU as a graduate student in 1995 as a way of processing what the family had experienced, retooling for new work, and studying a subject that interested him.

As he neared the end of his MA studies, he started a restorative justice program in Harrisonburg in 1999, but left it in 2004 for the school system job. The move was necessary to put the family on better financial footing before the Barge daughters entered college. Nathan continues to do volunteer work as a mediator and restorative justice practitioner. Formerly, he was board president of Gemeinshaft, a Harrisonburg program to assist ex-prisoners to transition to living productively in mainstream society.

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