Henrico’s Top Teachers – Sharon Johnson
Weinstein JCC, preschool
The hardest part of being a preschool teacher, says Sharon Johnson, is that the end of the day comes too soon.
After 25 years teaching at the Weinstein Jewish Community Center’s preschool (where she got her start as an intern from the VCU School of Social Work), Johnson still finds it hard to accomplish everything in three hours -- and disappointing when she has to call a halt to the day’s activities.
“I get so much joy from being a preschool teacher,” says Johnson, citing such favorite moments as seeing a child’s eyes light up, or bringing smiles to her students’ faces with something she said, did or taught them. “[But] there are times when the children are really engaged in exploring a lesson and we have to stop,” she says. “Sometimes I am able to revisit [the lesson] the next day, but sometimes the interest or level of excitement has gone by then.”
Short day or not, Johnson gets an amazing amount accomplished in those three hours, say her colleagues.
“Sharon has magical abilities,” wrote a nominator. “Through her enthusiasm and generosity of spirit she touches so many lives of staff, children and parents.”
An inclusive program, the JCC preschool has many students with special needs, ranging from developmental delays, Down syndrome, autism, speech and language delays, and medically fragile conditions. But preschoolers of all abilities, ages, and backgrounds “flourish” in Johnson’s care, wrote a colleague.
“Sharon creates a warm, engaging classroom . . . [and] meets every challenge with a warmth and sense of purpose that reaches into the inner being of each child,” said a nominator.
“She teaches them to ‘kiss their brain,’ and rejoices in their accomplishments.”
While working with special needs children might be challenging, says Johnson, it’s not nearly as hard as being the one who breaks the news to parents about a child’s learning issues. But as a teacher of two-to-four-year-olds, Johnson is on the front lines, and more than once has had the difficult task of presenting her concerns when she recognizes a problem.
“At times the parent may be hearing this information for the first time,” says Johnson. “I have to be sensitive to the parents’ needs while reassuring them that I will do everything that I can to support them and their child.”
But often, she adds, those newly-identified children turn out to be some of the most rewarding to teach. Not only can she watch them progress throughout the year, says Johnson, but their parents often return years later to thank her for making them aware of the delays and working with them on strategies – and to inform her of the child’s successes since.
Another group that frequently returns to the JCC to visit Johnson is made up of former students, who come as middle schoolers to volunteer in her class and as college students to work alongside her in the summer camp program. In many cases the college students are pursuing degrees in education, she says, and they remind Johnson of something positive she said or did as their teacher that helped lead to their decision to teach.
For Johnson herself, the decision to teach did not come at one defining moment, but it was definitely influenced by an elementary school teacher she had named Mrs. Cason.
“She made learning fun and showed a lot of genuine interest in each of her students,” Johnson recalls. “She made me feel special by always taking the time to listen and encourage me in all aspects of my learning.
“I did not know at that time that I would become a teacher one day,” she adds, “but I did know that whatever I did, it would involve caring for children and families.”
Her colleagues will tell you that Johnson takes care of both, serving as a role model for children and as a mentor to parents as well as fellow teachers.
“She is one of those rare teachers that can mesmerize children and their parents with her calm and gentle manner,” said a nominator.
“She deeply respects young children . . . [and] has left an indelible mark in thousands of children’s lives.”
The Richmond West Breakfast Lions Club (based in western Henrico) recently donated 59 backpacks to the Westover Hills Elementary School on Jahnke Road.
Above, club members display some of the backpacks prior to their distribution. > Read more.
Thanks to a first-place win in The American Protege International Vocal Competition 2014, Glen Allen High School student Matija Tomas will travel to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall in December.
At the first-place winners recital in Weill Hall, Matija will perform Giacomo Puccini’s opera aria, “Chi il bel sogna di doretta.” She will perform with other vocalists from around the world and have the opportunity to win other awards and scholarships.
Locally, Thomas has performed with Richmond’s renowned Glorious Christmas Nights, Christian Youth Theatre, and WEAG’s Urban Gospel Youth Choir. > Read more.
The John Rolfe YMCA and Gayton Baptist Church have partnered in an effort to bring greater health and wellness opportunities to the community.
Through this partnership, the John Rolfe Y will run Youth Winter Sports programs, including basketball and indoor soccer, in Gayton’s newly renovated $5.5 million outreach center that features a new gymnasium, youth and teen space, social space with café, meeting space and full service commercial kitchen. > Read more.
The Boathouse restaurant will open at Short Pump Town Center in the spring, its third location in the region.
“People have asked us to come to the West End for years,” said owner Kevin Healy. “When the opportunity arose, we knew had to jump on it.”
The new restaurant will be located in a 5,800-square-foot space under the Hyatt House Hotel at the town center and will include a large outdoor patio. > Read more.
Boka Kantina exceeds its strong food truck reputation
Already a fan of Boka fare from outdoor events with the Tako Truck, I was delighted to learn of the new restaurant, and eager to see if its reputation held up after putting down brick-and-mortar roots.
Would the food lose its zest if I wasn’t enjoying it in the great outdoors? Would it seem pedestrian served from an ordinary kitchen instead of a truck?
Would the tacos be less satisfying as an antidote to normal lunch hunger – instead of being ingested to stave off desperate hunger after a long afternoon of crowds, sun, and tedious lines? > Read more.
Original Gravity gets the green light to move forward with relocation, expansion into larger space
A Lakeside home-brewing shop has felt the gravitational pull toward the booming craft beer scene.
Original Gravity, a shop that sells beer and wine kits for homebrewers, has just been given the green light to start work on a microbrewery.
Owner Tony Ammendolia is expanding his 1,000-square-foot shop in Lakeside Town Center to 5,000-square-foot digs a few doors down to add a brewery and expand his supplies.
Ammendolia opened the home-brew supply store in November 2011 and since then he said business has taken off.
“I think I outgrew this place in the first year,” Ammendolia said. “We’ve seen steady growth and I’ve been looking for a place to expand to move the shop to get more square footage.” > Read more.
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