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For the paraprofessionals and school-related personnel (PSRP) division, the winner is Brenda Johnson, a transition specialist who works closely with families of incoming high school students at Stadium View School, which is part of the Minneapolis school system and housed within the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center.
"I try to re-instill hope to kids who are on their last straw," she says. "Kids often look at police and correctional workers as being the enemy. I am not the enemy. My work is to build trust." Students tell her, "Ms. Johnson, I wish you were my mom."
Fervently devoted to interrupting the "cradle-to-prison pipeline," she was recently asked by her city's police chief to serve on a task force about gangs. She is a single mother of two, a minister in the AME church, and has become active as a steward and member of her union's negotiating team.
So far, the pinnacle of Johnson's work has been developing a national model for engaging the parents of incarcerated students. She has run a Freedom School at the facility for the past three years, in which parents and the community are invited for a night of celebrating students' academic progress. The next day, school and elected officials visit. "People as far away as Australia have come," her nominator writes, "to see how Brenda has engaged parents and supported students in and out of the system."
See more on the AFT website