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Donna Barnard taught at Portland High for 28 years and never stopped encouraging her students &#821

Donna Barnard liked to stand in the third-floor hallway at Portland High School and say hi to students and faculty walking by the classroom where she taught chemistry for 28 years.

The beloved teacher and track and cross-country coach began working for Portland Public Schools in 1993 as an education technician at the former West School. But it didn’t take her long to land her dream job at another of her alma maters, Portland High.

Donna Barnard Photo courtesy of the Barnard family

During her tenure there, she was head of the science, physical education and health department. She also taught physical science for the school’s alternative credit option program.

Barnard died July 22 after a recent cancer diagnosis. She was 55.

“She was a true educator,” said Eric Begonia, a fellow teacher at Portland High. “She had an unbelievable knack for identifying and uniquely creating relationships with every single kid she taught. She made it look easy. Her classes were always full. It speaks volumes about her reputation as a teacher. … To say she was beloved is an understatement. She was Portland High through and through.”

Barnard lived her whole life in Portland. She attended West School and Lincoln Middle School, and graduated from Portland High in 1985. At the University of Southern Maine, she was a standout on the cross country and track teams. She was inducted into the Husky Hall of Fame in 1998.

Barnard taught all levels of chemistry at Portland High. She had a passion for science and served as department chair for many years. Principal Sheila Jepson said Barnard played a key role in developing science standards for Portland’s high schools.

“Donna was an amazing colleague, a true champion for all students, and an incredible cheerleader for her fellow staff members,” Jepson said in a statement. “Without notice we would arrive at school to find our staff room filled with baked goods, fruit and other sweets, all compliments of Donna. She always knew just when a ‘pick-me-up’ was needed.”

Barnard was a longtime coach of the Bulldogs’ cross country, indoor and outdoor track teams. She was known for handing athletes’ packets containing their stats, accompanied by handwritten words of praise and encouragement. Former student athletes say that in Barnard’s coaching world, the atmosphere was positive and everyone felt accepted.

Nancy Nadeau of Cumberland, a Portland High grad, said Barnard built her teams’ confidence and self-esteem.

Donna Barnard and her husband, Chuck, are surrounded by their four children. Photo courtesy of the Barnard family

Nadeau shared a page of stats from Sept. 12, 1997, that shows she had run the team’s third-fastest time for 1.6 miles: 10:43.

“You make running seem so enjoyable,” Barnard wrote: “They should put you on video – the joy of running! Gutsy, strong and consistent. Some things never change. Keep it up.”

“She was the epitome of kindness and inclusiveness,” Nadeau said. “The cool thing about her as a coach was her mentality of the more, the merrier. She was always there with open arms and a big smile welcoming everyone. She cared more about how you treated people than who crossed the finish line the fastest.”

Liz Koharian of Biddeford, who now teaches health and physical education at Casco Bay High School, said Barnard was her summer track coach when she was 8, and coached her through high school. She said Barnard is one of her role models for coaching.

“I idolized her as a kid. I absolutely loved track,” Koharian said. “It’s because of the environment she created. She treated everyone equally.”

Barnard was married to Charles “Chuck” Barnard for 28 years. They raised four children – Charles, Anneke, Kenneth and William – and they all graduated from Portland High.

Anneke Barnard, her only daughter, followed in her footsteps and became a teacher – this year, she worked as a substitute teacher at Portland High. She said her mother was loved by everyone.

“She was my best friend,” her daughter said, crying. “We did a lot of things together. We were very close. I’ll miss being able to talk to her. She was always there when I needed to get away from my three brothers and all their friends.”

Chuck and Donna Barnard enjoyed spending time at the family camp on Lake Androscoggin in Wayne, where her ashes will be scattered. She last visited the camp on June 25 to celebrate their wedding anniversary. A highlight of their life together, her husband said, was going away for long weekends for their birthdays and anniversary.

He said he will miss their simple moments, watching TV and sitting out in the yard together.

“She was my best friend,” he said. “What I’m struggling with is the things we won’t be doing in our retirement together. There’s no one else I wanted to do things with.”

A memorial service was held last week at First Baptist Church in Portland. A GoFundMe campaign created by the family is raising money for an annual scholarship in her name that will go to a Portland High senior. Recipients will share her qualities, the campaign says: “school spirit that is rivaled by few, pure kindness, selflessness, compassion, empathy, and love for people of all walks of life.”

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