Dr. Nicole Johnson on supporting students through this time

Dr. Nicole Johnson on supporting students through this time

Dr. Nicole Johnson joined LA Promise Charter High School in South LA in February 2019 as the Dean of Student Culture. Fast forward to June 2020, when her students have been home for almost three months and are grappling with COVID-19 and the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. She is working daily with the students to keep them engaged, uplifted, and motivated through this time. She tells us how.

How did you come to this role at LA Promise Charter High School?

Like Principal Lutcher, I have been in education for 19 years. I had an educational and leadership coaching and consulting firm for the last 10 years. Years ago, I had worked with Principal Lutcher. We reconnected last year, and she asked me to come to LAPCHS.

When I got to LAPCHS, I wanted to deliver on this promise that we as a school are making to our students. I didn’t want to use the traditional discipline approach as the dean of student culture — calling parents, identifying “problem behavior.” I wanted to coach the students; I wanted to look at emotional intelligence and use positive psychology.

At the organizational level, we’ve been able to put systems in place to support our students – remote learning supports, mental toughness exercises, StrengthsExplorer exercises, summer bridge and offering credit recovery over the summer.

Principal Lutcher and I are a good pair. Our women leadership style has been effective. We play off each other’s strengths. Our front office team and coordinators offer tremendous support. We use a collaborative approach.

How have you been keeping students’ engaged over the past 3 months, while Safer at Home orders have been in effect?

The students like to be recognized for their work and their effort during this time, so I started personally delivering food to them – Little Cesar’s or Wingstop. When I visit them, I don’t lecture – I just check in. And they all want to share. If they bring up something, I’ll say, ‘How’s that going?’ It’s one small thing to keep the students’ energy up.

I talked to one of my students’ fathers the other day for 15 minutes. He said, ‘When I was a kid, no one ever came to my house – unless it was a truant officer.’ We’re reframing that story right here. When our school comes, it doesn’t mean there’s a problem. And there doesn’t have to be a problem to do something better. I really take a positive approach to it all. I look for the good in it — whether with LAPF, the school, or a family.

Dr. Johnson taking time to visit one of her students.

You’re wrapping up the year – and there’s a lot going on in the world, in Los Angeles, in South LA – COVID and the Black Lives Matter movement. How are your students coping? How is the school supporting them in this time?

The 9th grade teaching team put together a presentation addressing George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement for our students. The 9th grade team did an exceptional job of planning and executing a powerful Zoom meeting for our students. They collaborated on topics and decided this would be one of many talks to come. We talked about being mindful of words – like protest vs. uprising vs. rioters vs. looting. We talked about fact checking and the different actors who are out there. We knew it was a hard discussion, but an important one.

What are your hopes for your students?

That they understand that this is their time, and 2020 is not over. We can’t think of it is as a hurdle to get over. It’s a building block to step upon. Every generation has their turning point, like 9/11 was for my generation. I’m talking to my students powerfully, provocatively. I’m saying, Don’t run, don’t hide, don’t scowl. Stand up, be bold, have faith. This is temporary.

I hope that our students embrace this change in their education and hybrid learning. We need to let go of this rigidness. You can’t go back. We should employ forward thinking. Let’s re-envision and reimagine what learning could be. Let’s use creativity thinking to launch us all forward. The key is to manage change and transitions and relinquish some of the past thinking. Instead of having a yesterday mindset, we want to cultivate a Today and a Tomorrow mindset in our students.

Learn more about the LA Promise Charter High School.