St. Barnabas teacher made history come alive

by Laura Bednar

For almost four decades, Judy Darus has made history an interactive experience in and out of the classroom for her St. Barnabas Catholic School students.

Darus has been a St. Barnabas teacher for 38 years, 35 spent involved with Ohio History Day, an affiliate of National History Day and a free interdisciplinary and project-based learning program that allows students to tell the stories that inspire them, according to

Darus has taught in the Cleveland Catholic Diocese for over 40 years. She began her career at Assumption of Mary School in Brookpark, then at the former Lumen Cordium High School in Bedford before settling at St. Barnabas, where she taught fourth-graders and then middle school social studies. She retired at the end of this school year.

Darus said she enjoyed planning interactive lessons, such as students representing Greek city-states or acting out English scenarios, in which Darus was the queen.

St. Barnabas Principal Erin Faetanini said students lovingly refer to her as Queen Darus.

“There is so much to say about this amazing educator. Her ability to bring history alive for her students is like no other,” said Faetanini. “It is my wish that every child experiences a teacher with such passion and love for learning.”

After judging the History Day competition, Darus fueled that passion by bringing History Day to Barnabas. “When I judged I saw how excited the kids were about the projects,” she said. “When I was working in junior high, I had students get involved.”

Students are required to create a project based on that year’s theme but can choose their own topic. This year’s theme was “Turning Points in History,” and Barnabas students created projects about Martin Luther King Jr., the Ohio Canal, the Match Girls’ strike in England and safety measures following the Sept. 11 attacks, among other projects.

All students must present in class, but only some continue on to compete in the regional, state and national levels of History Day. Darus said her students have made it to each level over the years. This year, 40 students competed in regionals, eight advanced to states and one student, Tommy McFarland, qualified for the nationals in Washington, D.C., in June.

Darus guides students in choosing topics and keeps them on track. Before the pandemic, student research days were held at the Cleveland Public Library. Projects are commonly displayed on a tri-fold board with information, though students have also given performances and created documentaries and websites.

One of Darus’ History Day memories is watching a group of girls give a performance with memorized lines, props and costumes for several years in a row. “They got better each year,” she said. “I love seeing how the students grow. [The projects] require not just knowledge but creativity, too.”

Darus was happy to report that History Day will continue at Barnabas after her retirement. “It’s important because students engage with material on their own, and it’s often topics we wouldn’t study in school,” she said. “The research and presentation skills transfer to high school, college and the work world. Those are valuable skills to have.”

Her teaching career has come to a close, but Darus will still incorporate the study of history into her life. In retirement she plans to visit U.S historical sites and Canada during its theater festivals. ∞

St. Barnabas students (l-r) Liam Kraynack, Finley Kraynack, Bailey Rzeszut, Brielle Mitchell, Nate Kolo, Tommy McFarland and Norah Lea participated in the state level of History Day. Not pictured: Makenna Foley. Photo submitted.

Photo (main / above): Judy Darus. Photo by Laura Bednar.