Inaugural Winners of The Keith Gregory Barney FIRST Award Announced

On Tuesday, May 11th, Arthur Ashe Charter School director, Shanda Gentry, along with Glenda Baylis, middle school principal, announced the winners of the Keith Gregory Barney FIRST Award, created in honor of the esteemed Ashe special education teacher, coach, and community leader who passed away on August 12, 2020. 

Coach Keith Barney was a much-beloved educator, coach, and mentor at Ashe for seven years, always putting his students and athletes first. The FIRST Award – which refers to Future Inspiration and Recognition of Student Triumph – is designed to encourage Ashe 8th graders, specifically those facing adversities, to discover their worth and to continue their success in high school and beyond. 

Tareka K. and Samani S., FIRST Award Winners, received Ashe lapel pins, certificates, and classroom cheers, along with a $250 FIRST award to use for their future education. Both students are headed to InspireNOLA’s Eleanor McMain Secondary School next year. Mark G. and Brandon M., who are both headed to Warren Easton Charter High School, were runners-up. 

All 8th-grade contestants were judged on their 250- to 500-word essay submission, which touched on the challenges or obstacles overcome by the students, and any lessons learned that would increase their likelihood of success in high school, college, and beyond. Ashe school leaders, Coach’s wife Tammy Barney, and his brother Shawn Barney all read and reviewed the essays and graded them on logical flow, language, conclusion, and convention.

“Heartfelt essays,” his brother Shawn reflected. “I appreciate the self-reflection and awareness they poured into their writing.”

Each student who submitted an essay was recognized and received a certificate of appreciation, in one of the final 8th-grade homeroom assemblies of the school year. Middle school assistant principal Kenneth Johnson individually called the names of 87 8th graders who had declared a high school selection for next year.

“Keith would have loved it,” said Coach’s wife Tammy of the awards ceremony celebrating Ashe students’ achievements.

FirstLine is grateful to Sarah Usdin, the Barney Family, and other donors who loved Coach Barney and helped to establish this award. Donations to The Keith Gregory Barney FIRST Award fund can be made on FirstLine’s website, by selecting the option on the drop-down menu. Contributions will allow Arthur Ashe Charter School to continue to distribute FIRST awards to many deserving 8th graders for as long as possible.


For more information, please email Alisha Johnson Perry,, or call at 504-421-1060.