Henrico’s Top Teachers – Sharon Johnson

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.”
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Therapeutic healing


In a room labeled the garden room, a bright space with lavender-colored walls and pebble-gray chairs, art therapist Becky Jacobson might ask her patients to imagine a safe place, but she doesn’t ask them to describe it to her — she wants them to draw it.

The patients are free to draw whatever they envision, expressing themselves through their colored markers, a form of healing through art therapy.

“Some people might not feel safe anywhere because they have had hard things happening to them, and I have the background to help that person reground and feel safe in the group,” Jacobson said. > Read more.

Eight’s enough? Crowded race for 56th District develops


Following the retirement of Delegate Peter Farrell [R-56th District], a number of candidates have thrown their hats into the ring to vie for the open seat in the Virginia General Assembly district, which contains a portion of Henrico’s Far West End.

Democratic challengers include Lizzie Basch and Melissa Dart, while Republican contenders include George Goodwin, Matt Pinsker, Graven Craig, Surya Dhakar, Jay Prendergrast and John McGuire. In addition to a section of Henrico, the district also includes portions of Goochland and Spotsylvania County, as well as all of Louisa County. > Read more.

On the trail to Awareness


Twenty-five teams, composed of some 350 participants, gathered at Dorey Park in Varina April 8 for the Walk Like MADD 5k, to benefit Mothers Against Drunk Driving Virginia. The event raised more than $35,000, with more funds expected to come in through May 7. > Read more.

Leadership Metro Richmond honors St. Joseph’s Villa CEO


Leadership Metro Richmond honored St. Joseph's Villa CEO Kathleen Burke Barrett, a 2003 graduate of LMR, with its 2017 Ukrop Community Vision Award during its annual spring luncheon April 6.

The award honors a LMR member who demonstrates a purposeful vision, a sense of what needs to be done, clear articulation with concern and respect for others with demonstrated action and risk-taking. > Read more.

Glen Allen H.S. takes second in statewide economics competition

Glen Allen H.S. was among six top schools in the state to place in the 2017 Governor’s Challenge in Economics and Personal Finance.

Taught by Patricia Adams, the Glen Allen H.S. team was runner-up in the Economics division, in which teams faced off in a Quiz Bowl. > Read more.

Henrico Business Bulletin Board

April 2017
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The Virginia Orchid Society will meet at 2 p.m. at Strange’s Florist & Garden Center, 12111 W. Broad St. Meetings are held the third Sunday of the month from September to May. Meetings are free and open to all orchid lovers, beginners or experienced. For details, visit http://www.vaorchidsociety.org. Full text

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