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Staff Focus: Trina Johnson, Paraeducator, Oakland Mills Middle School

February 13th, 2018

Oakland Mills Middle School paraeducator Trina Johnson uses her experience and passion to support teachers and staff, and to make connections with students to ensure their academic and social-emotional well-being.

Originally from Prince George’s County, Johnson moved to Howard County for a fresh start after her mother passed away. She relocated to Laurel where she began as a student assistant at Stevens Forest Elementary School.

Johnson initially resisted the idea of becoming an educator. “My mom would tell me all the time ‘You’re going to be teaching.’ I’d say, ‘I’m not going to have anything to do with school.’”

When she was a student, education was the last thing on Johnson’s mind. “I used to be this problem child in school. I didn’t want to go to school. Because I was “bad,” they said I had a problem with learning. I said ‘I don’t want to go to school. I’m going to drop out.’”

Johnson taught herself some of things that her peers were learning, just in a different way. “I taught myself certain things, like division. I’d do division backwards while everyone else knew how to do it forward,” she explains.

“My mom was like, ‘You have it, you just don’t know.’” “It” was a gift for teaching.

Her experiences at Stevens Forest and with the Howard County Department of Recreation and Park Therapeutic Recreation and Inclusion Services, where she provided recreational opportunities to children of all ages and promoted life skills for children with autism, inspired her to embrace education as her true calling.

“Now I want to give back. I understand where some of these kids are coming from and how the learning experience is for them. It allows me to show them that they can do this too.”

While technically a special education paraeducator, Johnson has a role in just about everything at Oakland Mills. She contributes to Individualized Education Plans and works one-on-one with teachers and students inside and outside of the classroom. But she also will be called upon to substitute in a classroom and even support the front office. “I take on many different roles.”

“Ms. Johnson is an incredible and hardworking paraeducator. She has many gifts and skills with students, particularly working with students with more significant special needs,” says Oakland Mills Middle School Principal Megan Chrobak.

“Part of my connection with special needs students comes from my own experience in school. Working with these kids, I just went in and went for it. They know if you got it or if you don’t got it. The kids call on me for everything, if they need to talk or want to show me something. They say I’m a unique kind of person because I can relate to them.”

Johnson is known as a leader at Oakland Mills and never hesitates to take on a new or challenging task. Johnson serves on the Oakland Mills leadership team to represent Educational Support Professionals (ESP) staff. She actively seeks out ESP professional development and applies it at Oakland Mills.

“Ms. Johnson is a leader,” explains Chrobak. “She is constantly looking for ways to support staff and students in the building.”

Students also see Johnson as a role model. She reaches students by sharing her own challenges in school. “I can tell them ‘You’re not in this by yourself. I’ve been where you are. I’ve been there.’”

Johnson’s passion is driven in part by her own children, one of whom attends Oakland Mills Middle School. “I can’t just teach them, I have to show them, that we can do this together. I get up and do the very best all the time. And the kids here [at Oakland Mills] make you want to come back,” she says.

“Everything I do, I do out of the kindness of my heart. This is something I have a passion for. I just love my job.”

“Oakland Mills is incredibly lucky to have her,” concludes Chrobak.