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Piedmont profile: He helps students log on to learning

By Susan Shinn
For The Salisbury Post
You’d think school would be the last place for a man who failed four grades.
But there’s Anthony Johnson, technology facilitator at Overton Elementary School, with a smile on his face.
“I come in and just basically go with the flow,” says Johnson, who at 6 feet, 2 inches towers over the students.
Not only does he help students, he trains teachers as well.
Technology is constantly changing, he says. “We’re constantly being trained.”
It’s not a source of frustration for him, he says. He revels in the fast-paced environment. “I love it.”
Most technology facilitators split their duties between two schools. Johnson is one of only four full-time technology facilitators systemwide.
When an assistant retired, Principal Betty Tunks gave up that position to get Johnson full-time.
“I’m here every day,” Johnson says. “Teachers are good about asking for training.”
And if they don’t, he hands them a TECH slip (that stands for Technology Enhancing Curriculum Help), suggesting how they can better incorporate technology in the classroom.
Overton is brimming with technology. Promethean boards, the white, interactive boards, have been installed in every classroom.
Johnson has visited each classroom, showing teachers the basics.
It’s a long way from where Johnson was as a student. He grew up in New Orleans, was bored with school and fell in with the wrong crowd.
At 16, he found himself in ninth grade.
The school counselor called his father and said, “He’s wasting his time.”
They gave up on him, and Johnson knew it.
“I was mad at my dad, and I was mad at myself. I was a fool and a failure.”
On the other hand, he says, “I was not a dumb child.”
His dad forced him to get his GED, and he began working a series of minimum-wage jobs, mostly in security.
At 19, he got a job with the sheriff’s department.
“In Louisiana, that was considered to be a good job,” he says.
In 1994, he met his wife, Desiree, a medical school student, and moved to Columbus, Ga., with her.
They married in December 1995, and Johnson went back to school to be a band director.
He flunked out after a year.
“I couldn’t excel,” he says. “School just wasn’t for me.”
He worked for FedEx, studied to be an EMT, tried community college.
His wife was getting frustrated, he admits. She’d been educated in Catholic schools, went to college on a full scholarship, graduated at the top of her class.
But she was patient, Johnson says.
The couple moved to Salisbury in 1997 when Desiree went to work for Salisbury Medical Clinic.
Johnson became a stay-at-home dad for their first daughter, Jessieca.
His parents died in 1998, within six months of each other.
“I felt this incredible guilt,” Johnson says. “I knew I could’ve done better. My parents must’ve thought I was a failure.”
While he was at home, he went to Sears and bought a Compaq computer ó and fell in love again, this time, with technology.
He decided to give school one more shot.
He put his daughter in day care and enrolled in Livingstone College in the fall of 1999.
He was 28 years old.
This time, it was different.
He had a professor who taught him how to study, and told the class, don’t be around negative people.
“I felt like she was talking to me,” he says.
He was a music major and all music majors had to march in the band.
He did it.
For a year. Then changed his major to education.
“You can imagine what the conversation was at my house,” Johnson says.
All along, his wife had supported him.
“He seemed like a good person,” Desiree Johnson says. “He seemed real genuine. Sometimes you have a gut feeling about someone.
“He’d always pictured himself as a person who did not succeed academically. I always thought he could.”
This time, he did.
Johnson graduated with a solid 3.12 average and began teaching in 2003 at Overton. He worked at North Middle and Isenberg before returning to Overton as technology facilitator.
At Livingstone, his interest in technology was sparked by Dr. Gary Callahan, who showed Johnson how he used software to arrange band music.
Wherever he can, Johnson encourages teachers to integrate technology into their lessons.
“Students have cell phones, videogames, computers and iPods,” he says.
“Then they come to school and they gotta turn it off.”
That’s not the case at Overton.
“We have all this stuff that will keep a kid engaged,” he says. “If you give them the same tools they have at home, school will be a lot easier.”
The students are certainly comfortable with technology.
Johnson remembers a first-grader showing his teacher how to use a brand-new Promethean board.
The child had never seen it before, yet he was familiar with the technology it uses.
Johnson is working to help the teachers be just as comfortable with technology.
Every other Thursday is Technology Thursday, with 30-minute workshops after school on such topics as e-mail, technology resources and software.
Johnson then works one-on-one with teachers in their classrooms.
Overton Elementary is an IMPACT school, a model in which teachers, media coordinators and technology facilitators work together to integrate technology.
“We couldn’t do this without him,” says Tunks, the principal.
At home, Johnson and his wife expect just as much from their children as he does from his students.
“You’re not gonna go and do the same things I did,” he often tells his three daughters, Jessieca, 11, Adanya, 9, and Kailah, 7.
Back at school, Johnson walks the halls, stopping to look over a display of old computers. When a first-grader walks between Johnson and the display case, Johnson makes him apologize and go back around the right way.
“Go to class,” Johnson says as the boy moseys on down the hall. “Go to class.”
But students respond to Johnson, Tunks says. “They just gravitate to him. He takes at-risk children under his wing and does activities with them to try to turn them around. They all respect him.”
Johnson doesn’t see himself returning to the classroom anytime soon.
“I love what I’m doing now,” he says. “I can experience and share with kids on a broader scale.”
Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

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