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David (left) and April Barnes (right) travel up the hill to Jones Residence Hall with their children Abbie (left) and Morgan. The family lives in the residence hall where April serves as residence hall coordinator. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)
 

Living on the Hill: Family Arrangement in Jones Hall

By Jeannine Manning Hutson

Like many young married couples, April and Dave Barnes live in an apartment with their two young children while saving money to buy a house.

What makes their living arrangement a little different is their apartment is surrounded by 346 East Carolina University students in Jones Residence Hall on College Hill, which is home to six residence halls.

For April Barnes, it’s just a natural fit, she said. “We just hear the white noise outside. We have trouble sleeping when the students are gone and it’s too quiet,” Barnes said.

Morgan Barnes attends kindergarten at Eastern Elementary. A school bus picks her up and drops her off on campus.

As the residence hall coordinator for Jones, Barnes supervises the 11 student resident advisers in Jones and four at North Campus Crossing, a private apartment complex where ECU students are being housed temporarily this semester. She is also responsible for the overall administrative and programming aspects of the residence hall.

“Waz” Miller, director of residence life for Campus Living, said that Barnes has “a warm and approachable demeanor and the students seem to gravitate toward her. She takes a real interest in her staff from their academics to their role on her team.”

Miller added, “She is very committed to her job and very organized. She likes to see the bright side of things, works hard and likes to have fun. I think her organizational skills help her to balance her work and family life.”

This is Barnes’ second year living in Jones; she and her husband also lived in Green Residence Hall for two years. “My poor husband,” she said laughing, “was outnumbered one to 420 females.”

For their children — 5-year-old Morgan and 2-year-old Abbie — living in the residence hall is all they know. “They have basically grown up in the residence halls,” she said. A Pitt County school bus picks up Morgan on College Hill at 6:55 every morning to take her to Eastern Elementary, where she is in kindergarten. Abbie attends preschool at the Easter Seals United Cerebral Palsy Center, which is close enough down Elm Street that one of her parents takes her in her stroller to school each day.

When asked what she likes about living where she does, Morgan replied, “The R.A.s.”

Barnes laughed. She said her girls were so excited when the resident advisers began moving in before the fall semester began. “My daughter is probably one of the few kids who had 15 20-year-olds at her 2-year-old birthday party,” Barnes said.

A native of northern Minnesota, Barnes grew up six miles from the Canadian border. She joked that adapting to life in North Carolina was probably a bigger hurdle than adjusting to living in a residence hall again. “We moved down here in mid-June and by the time we had emptied out our boxes, we were covered in sweat.

“We’re used to it being too cold for the kids to go outside to play, not having to look at the heat index. And the humidity makes it like breathing underwater,” she said.

Jones Residence Hall Coordinator April Barnes interacts with her 2-year-old daughter Abbie at the family’s Jones Hall apartment.

Barnes and her husband, who is a native of Iowa, met at the University of North Dakota, where he was in the aviation program. He is now a pilot for U.S. Airways Express, based with a crew at Raleigh-Durham International airport.

Barnes earned her undergraduate degree in secondary education focusing on English in middle school and a master’s of education degree concentrating in leadership, both from the University of North Dakota. All residence hall coordinators at ECU have master’s degrees.

For Barnes and her family, the non-traditional housing arrangement has been win-win. “I love my job, and it’s a good way to pay off school and flight loans.”

While she loves being around the students, Barnes said it’s becoming time for her family to move to a house with a yard – a yard that’s not shared by hundreds of college students.

She wants to stay involved with students and is hoping for an assistant director role or position with off-campus living with on-campus office hours for the 2009-10 academic year.

“Elm Street Park is right next door, and the kids love when we go there. But it would be nice to have a backyard for them to play in,” she said.

Right now the girls’ bikes are stowed in the corner of Barnes’ office. Their apartment is filled with little girl puzzles and activity kits. The girls share one of the two bedrooms and have a play area off from the living/dining room area.

“Once every five weeks, I’m the coordinator on duty for the residence halls on the Hill. That’s the one part of the job that’s hard, because if Dave’s out of town flying and I have to go out, then I have to call one of my R.A.s to come and sleep on my sofa,” she said.

One of the rewards of being surrounded by college students is the built-in-sitter factor.

Students living in Jones Residence Hall are all freshmen who are athletes or are studying music or engineering.

Barnes praised the students for their behavior around her girls. “They all know I have kids and they are respectful of that and watch their language.”

She laughed and said some nights it takes 30 minutes to get into their apartment because her girls are quite popular with their fellow Jones residents. “My favorite is when the big football players get down on the girls’ level to say, ‘Hi.’ And my girls love it.

“We took them to an ECU basketball game last year and one of the players waved at them, and they yelled back, ‘Hey Jamar.’ They saw him as one of their dorm friends,” she said.

“The R.A.s and the residents are my favorite part of the job,” she said.

4/23/07
This page originally appeared in the Oct. 3, 2008 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at http://www.ecu.edu/news/poe/Arch.cfm.