Next Door alumni returns as teacher

When Justice Johnson attended Next Door as a student in the 1990’s, she remembers above all Ms. Brenda.

“I just looked at her like my second mama at school,” Justice recalled.

She became “bound at the hip” with Ms. Brenda often serving as her helper around the classroom.

Fast forward more than two decades later and Justice is still in touch with Ms. Brenda today.

She has even followed in her professional footsteps – now working as a teacher at Next Door and striving to form close relationships with her students like she cherished with Ms. Brenda.

“I call them my babies,” Justice said. “I just take care of them like they are my own kids.”

Justice, who is now 24, started teaching at Next Door in February of 2018.

She had reconnected with the organization at a job fair and was overjoyed when a job offer from her early childhood alma mater came her way.

“The first morning of my first day, I put on my Next Door shirt and I was happy! My mom was like – ‘Are you ready?’ I said, ‘I’m ready because this is what I wanted to do my whole entire life,’” Justice said.

Justice works at Next Door’s Capitol Drive campus, teaching in a classroom that follows children from ages one to three.

Having previously worked in more daycare-like settings, Justice is new to the more structured, high-engaging and curriculum-driven approach utilized at Next Door.

She’s learning a lot from her co-teachers and professional development about lesson planning, instructional methods and student assessment tools. The experience is providing her with both motivation and satisfaction.

“To see the children follow the day-to-day routine here and then grow from that in their words, in their language and in their actions – it just shows me I’m really here for a reason.”

Justice is also building strong connections and trust with parents.

She says, on occasion, she’ll bump into parents walking into the building in the morning and they’ll let her take their child to the classroom from there. Parents also tell Justice they see the positive impact of Next Door on their children’s development at home.

Now into her second year of teaching at Next Door, Justice says this place has become even more special to her as an adult. She just can’t get over that she’s back years later.

“Now that I’m 24 working at the school I went to is mind-blowing,” she said.

Justice and her students spent time this summer in the school garden and learned about vegetables like green beans.