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Jan. 6, 2016

Joshua Johnson: Fully immersed in Detroit's community

Joshua JohnsonJan. 6, 2016

It’s a Tuesday in July and MSU College of Education junior Joshua Johnson is standing at the front of a small classroom of first and second graders at Detroit’s Freedom School.

The kids have just returned from harambee, a portion of their day devoted to getting up, moving around and singing. 

The children are antsy, but Johnson knows exactly what to say to calm them down.

After a few moments, the kids do settle and Johnson begins a structured discussion on a book they read together. Taking turns, each student shares then passes a “magical necklace” (a colorful, fake Hawaiian lei) to the next.

“Watching these kids coming out of their shells, teaching them to speak English, getting them excited about reading — it’s been amazing to see,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen certain students’ confidence grow, and it’s been wonderful.”

Charting a path

When Johnson first realized he wanted to teach, he was about the age of the kids he’s instructing today. Growing up in Kalamazoo with a businessman father and teacher mother, Johnson was part of a diverse urban community and had teachers who invested in their students at Kalamazoo Public Schools.

These things — combined with the College of Education’s reputation as the top school for elementary and secondary education in the country — made attending MSU to study urban education a no-brainer for Johnson.

Amidst feeling nervous upon finding out he was being placed at the literacy-based, ESL Detroit Freedom School, Johnson wasn’t quite sure what to expect in this real-world classroom.

“Honestly, from the get-go, it’s been awesome,” Johnson said. “After two years in the Urban Educators program, I was prepared for this experience. I can only imagine what two more years of learning methods and approaches will do for me.”Joshua Johnson teaching elementary students in classroom

Going confidently

During his time in Detroit as an Urban Immersion Fellow, Johnson’s choices were once again confirmed.

Originally funded by the Broad Foundation, the Urban Immersion Fellowship is a seven-week, fully immersive fellowship open to second-year undergraduates who express interest in urban education. The fellowship includes a stipend for living expenses, and through a long-standing partnership with Detroit Public Schools, fellows are placed throughout the district, and occasionally with nonprofit community organizations serving children, youth and families.

“Scholarships and the fellowship have helped make all this happen,” Johnson said. “Living in Detroit isn’t free and the support helped me find a way to live here so I can be part of this great experience.

“My experiences and opportunities at MSU have been amazing … I’ve gained things here a textbook just can’t give.”

A novel approach

Impressed with the quality of the Teacher Preparation Program at MSU, novelist James Patterson has funded multiple cohorts of scholarship recipients at the College of Education, which has an emphasis on better literacy teaching. A member of the Urban Educators Cohort Program, Johnson was a perfect candidate. 

“When I found out I would be getting the James Patterson Teacher Education Scholarship, it was a huge relief, and it made me not have to worry about funding college and these extra experiences,” Johnson added. “Just to know people out there are supporting us and helping us become the best educators that we can be? It shows people care about the children in this country.”

Learn about supporting students like Joshua Johnson

Story by Sarah Wardell

Reprinted with permission from Empower Extraordinary: The Campaign for Michigan State University