Ramona Johnson was that kid in high school who always befriended the new kid or the ones with special challenges. She was a role model in academics and athletics, playing basketball, softball and track. She gained entrance to Monmouth University on an athletic scholarship. It was a volunteer program with AmeriCorps at her hometown Red Bank Middle School which cemented her life’s work in teaching.
“That was when I realized how much I loved working with kids,” she states.
Her alma mater once again came to her aid in the form of the Catherine Gahler Scholarship which paid completely for her Master’s in Education. She later added certification in Teacher of the Handicapped and Supervision and to her credentials.
Ramona Johnson began her teaching career in the Long Branch public schools as a teacher of the physically impaired as well as emotionally handicapped students in middle school. In addition, she taught in the alternate school program and in-school suspension. She was successful in these challenging assignments as she states, “I was known as a disciplinarian who was good at de-escalating negative behavior.”
She adds, “I must admit it is not an easy task, but every day I am reminded that my efforts do not go unnoticed.”
Stemming from her years near the shore, she coached basketball for Neptune Recreation for over 10 years as well as Red Bank Recreation program for a time.
In 2003, she took the opportunity to move back to her hometown of Red Bank as the Executive Director of the Count Basie Achievement Center operated by the Community YMCA. The program caught her attention as it took residence in what was once a bar in Red Bank owned by a beloved community supporter. It was located just three homes from her childhood house.
She explains, “I think that he would have been proud to know that the bar was converted into a learning center for the children within the community that he supported.”
Opportunity returned her to the New Jersey public school system in 2006, where she teaches today as the Lead RCI (Resource Class Inclusion) Teacher, an honor she was appointed to by administration and her peers.
Newark is a bigger challenge than she had ever before experienced, but she states that she always had the desire to teach in the inner cities. The community has grown increasing diverse with Latino children from various countries.
Of that diversity she comments, “It is important to understand that people cry the same and they hurt the same. I constantly encourage them to overcome their challenges by promoting grit and determination, reminding them that ‘Every expert was once a beginner.’”
Ms. Johnson continues her work in Newark at the Hawkins Street School as a special education teacher and is responsible for planning and implementing individualized education plans for each student. She serves as an advisory counselor and mentor to support novice teachers.
In performing workshops for regular education teachers who are paired with inclusion teachers, she comments, “I try to let them know how the mind of a special education student works; and give them strategies so both child and teacher can feel more comfortable with one another.”
Of her chosen profession she states, “Working with children is one of the best experiences ever. Words cannot explain how thankful I am to be in the position to change the lives of children.”
In 2013, her leadership was recognized by her alma mater, Monmouth University with its Rebecca Stafford Leadership in Sport Award. And today her first alma mater, Red Bank Regional, honors her with induction into its Hall of Fame.
She states of this honor, “It is very humbling coming back here. Red Bank Regional was an amazing experience for me with wonderful educators who held me accountable, and encouraged me to always do my best. All I ever wanted to do in life was further my education, treat people how I want to be treated and give back to my community.”