2017 Regional Teacher of the Year Anthony Johnson is Livingstone homecoming parade grand marshal

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 19, 2017

Livingstone College News Service

SALISBURY — An award-winning educator who is a graduate of Livingstone College will lead the school’s 2017 homecoming parade.

Anthony Johnson, who teaches fourth- and fifth-grade science and social studies at Isenberg Elementary School in Salisbury, will serve as grand marshal of the homecoming parade.

The parade begins at 9 a.m. Oct. 28 and will be from Main to Monroe streets. The lineup begins at 7:30 a.m. at Soldiers Memorial AME Zion Church at 306 N. Church St. and ends on campus.

Johnson, who recently spoke at a weekly assembly on campus, is the epitome of Livingstone College President Jimmy Jenkins’ mantra: “Taking students from where they are to where they need to be.”

The 2003 Livingstone College graduate doesn’t hesitate to affirm that “Livingstone College saved his life.”

He went from failing fourth, seventh, eighth and ninth grades to becoming Isenberg Elementary School 2016 Teacher of the Year, Rowan-Salisbury Schools 2016-17 Teacher of the Year, and the 2017 North Carolina Southwest Regional Teacher of the Year.

Johnson, who hails from New Orleans, said after he failed ninth grade, a school counselor contacted his father and recommended he learn a vocational skill. He dropped out of high school at age 16.

“That’s like a death sentence to a young black male,” he said.

He eventually received his GED, but life still was not without its challenges as he could find only minimum-wage jobs. He filed for bankruptcy, his lights were disconnected and his car was repossessed.

His life was riddled with misfortune because of a lack of education, he said, until he met a Dr. Desiree Johnson, who became his wife. She was the complete opposite of who he was, he said. She was in medical school and encouraged him to go to college.

He took her advice but ended up getting suspended because of poor academic performance. On his next report card, it was the same thing. Eventually, it was suggested – as in high school – that he drop out of college. That was in the spring of 1997.

In June 1998, his mother died. Six months later, his father died.

That was when he decided to make a true change in his life.

His wife was recruited to work in Rowan County. When his family relocated here, he decided to enroll at Livingstone College to major in music and fulfill his dream of becoming a band director.

At age 28, he found himself with a wife and a daughter, back in college and having to march in the band because of his major.

In order to earn community service hours, Livingstone sent him to Isenberg Elementary, where he saw black boys sitting in the back of the class asleep. When he alerted the teacher, the reply was, “Let them sleep; don’t wake them up,” he said.

That was a defining moment in his life. He decided to change his major from music to elementary education — and he knew why.

“When you know your ‘why,’ your ‘what’ has more impact,” he said.

He didn’t want those children to follow the same path he had taken. He wanted to teach differently. The same place he received his inspiration is the same place he now works. He teaches fourth- and fifth-grade science and social studies at Isenberg Elementary School. His classroom is called “Johnsonville: The collaborative learning community.” He doesn’t use worksheets, and there are no typical desks. He focuses on three areas: collaboration, critical thinking and citizenship.

Johnson’s goal is to teach with enthusiasm and give his students a different experience from his own in grade school. His desire to help young people succeed has afforded him the opportunity to travel the world as an educator.

He created the Mini Funk Factory, a drum line, to engage black boys. It has grown into a diverse group and is the first drum line at a middle school in the state. His class also has a YouTube channel and launched a weather balloon into space with an iPad attached. His students build 3D models, fly drones, publish books, make movies and operate small businesses.

He is recognized by Apple as an Apple Distinguished Educator, due in large part to his use of technology in the classroom that has positively influenced students. He is also a TED Innovative Educator and a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.

Jenkins learned about all the outstanding work Johnson is doing at Isenberg Elementary because he had a grandchild who was attending there. He then found out he was a Livingstone College alumni.

“Mr. Johnson is doing extraordinary work in the field of education, and we are proud that he is a product of Livingstone College,” Jenkins said. “Livingstone provided the right environment for Mr. Johnson to excel.”