Pamella Johnson builds a better world for students and fellow ESPs
Though Pamella Johnson has one of the most important jobs at Rochester High School, her school-day job is just a small part of her incredible contribution to her students and to ESPs statewide. A dedicated social emotional and behavior interventionist, a supportive track coach and a tireless advocate for paraprofessionals, Johnson is WEA's 2022 Education Support Professional of the Year.
Education has long been in Johnson’s family and five of her siblings are educators. She grew up knowing she wanted to be an educator and though she detoured for a few years into the corporate world, she returned to education more than 10 years ago and has worked at Rochester High since. For the last four years she has served as a social emotional and behavior interventionist, a role that has become critical for students during the pandemic recovery.
"I love my students," she says. "I love how authentic relationships make it possible for students and educators to come together to map a way to success."
Johnson works hard to ensure she’s welcoming, visible and supportive to all students, but she stresses the importance of being among very few Black educators in her rural district. When students see her, they see what they could be in the future.
"I love what students bring to the table," Johnson says. "Teenagers are still growing up and looking to grown-ups to guide them to be members of society. We're there for them."
Johnson attributes her dedication to education and her drive to give back to her own track coach from eighth grade. Coach Hawkins, the only Black woman in her school district, took time to be intentional and authentic in connecting with student athletes.
"Coach Hawkins taught me what inequities were and fought for us girls to have the same resources the boy athletes had," Johnson reflects. "She gave us what we needed to survive and I’m proud to pass that torch on to my students."
Johnson's advocacy for students extends beyond the district, serving on the Board of Directors for NEA and WEA along with an official appointment to the Washington State Paraeducators Board. She has been instrumental in raising ESP needs in each of these organizations, stressing the urgency of getting respectful pay and appreciation for the important work of all ESPs. As a member of the Paraeducator Board, Johnson will help set policy around paraeducator training, certification and standards. The Board, created in 2017 as a result of successful WEA member advocacy, is currently reviewing the state’s new standards for cultural competency, diversity, equity and inclusion (CCDEI) training.
"Now more than ever we need to attract more ESPs and stop ESPs from leaving the field and the way to do that is by addressing livable wages," she says. "We need to support and appreciate ESPs for what we do and make the work rewarding."
During the conversation with We2.0, "Ms. J," as her students call her, responds to a shout-out from a boy in the hallway with a smile and a friendly good morning.
"Our work is critical to all that goes on in schools, from custodians to office staff to food services to paraeducators, we make the school run," Johnson shares.
"We’re first to open and last to leave. And we love it."
Watch video for a Day in the Life of Miss J.