WEBSTER COUNTY, Ky. (1/23/12) - Retirement has been good to Providence native Tom Johnson. Since retiring in 2000, he has worked with students of every grade level from primary school to adult education and college.
Currently he is an instructor for AmeriCorps at Dixon Elementary School.
“I’m sure my parents would be beside themselves that I was doing this,” Johnson said. He is in his first year with AmeriCorps, which gives people the chance to serve their community for a two-year term. “My parents were educators, and they wanted their children to be involved in everything.”
His mother, Margaret Johnson, ran a private kindergarten in the days when such a thing did not exist in the school system, and his father, Wendell Johnson, served as the Providence principal twice through the 50’s and 60’s. Both of them worked into their 70’s, which Johnson said may be his influence for continuing to work even after retiring.
“Tom is the exception rather than the rule,” said Shannon Bailes, Area Director of AmeriCorps. “Typically, we get mothers in their 30’s who are looking to go back to school. When you serve, you receive a scholarship for an education. In this case, Tom can give his to his grandkids.”
Each year, AmeriCorps offers 75,000 opportunities for adults of all ages and backgrounds to serve through a network of partnerships with local and national nonprofit groups. The job could be to make a community safer, give a child a second chance, or help protect the environment.
“Not all of our volunteers do literacy,” said Bailes. “Some work with seniors. Some work with homeless and those in poverty.”
Since 1994, more than 250,000 people ranging in age from 18 to 80 have served in AmeriCorps. Some have college degrees, while others have completed high school or are in the process of earning their GED.
“I actually wanted to go to the Peace Corp after college,” Johnson said. “But I was offered a position at Western Kentucky University teaching English. So I was 21 teaching freshman English in 1965.”
Over the next eight years , he would teach at a lot of places, including WKU, EKU, Owensboro Senior High and a private Jewish school in Pennsylvania before leaving teaching behind.
“I spent 28 years at Houghton Mifflin as an Educational Sales Rep,” he said. “And I knew then that I would eventually go back to teaching.”
At Dixon Elementary School, Tom Johnson specializes in reading and language arts.
“Teachers teach their students, and then I help to enrich what they’ve already learned,” he said.
Johnson said that when he was first approached to take the position at Dixon, he was hesitant. Until that point, he hadn’t taught elementary school kids. But the people at the board office assured him that their kids were different.
“Webster County has the best kids I’ve worked with anywhere,” he said. “If I’m having a bad day, there is always a student there to pat me on the back or say something nice. They’re good kids.”
To find out more about the AmeriCorps program, visit their website at http://www.americorps.gov.
J-E News Editor
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