Every morning when I get dropped off at school, I see crossing guard Dorothea Johnson with a vibrant smile on her face stationed outside the high school garage near the sprint track. Johnson, sometimes wearing red heart sunglasses, can be found directing traffic and cheerfully greeting students.
Yet many students don’t know much, if anything, about Johnson. Seeing her every day made me want to learn more about people at GDS who students don’t interact with but who impact our lives daily. My hope is that my classmates will do the same.
It only takes a few seconds to say hello to someone or to introduce yourself. The upside is a stronger sense of community for all its members.
By nature, teachers and students need to interact. But at GDS, many of us form connections with our teachers beyond the classroom. There’s no reason why students’ sociability should extend to the faculty but not to the staff or to those who are not employees of the school but are nonetheless essential to its functionality.
I wanted to get to know Johnson better, so I decided to interview her to hear, and now to share, her story. Our conversation sparked in me a new understanding of the significance of forming connections with all members of the GDS community.
Like me and my classmates, Johnson went to high school in D.C. She graduated from Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and then went on to dance professionally at the San Diego Ballet Company. After a year, she realized if she continued to dance full time she would not be able to support herself financially. She returned to D.C., where she got a job with the Metropolitan Police Department in the seventh district.
“I find it amazing that I went from dancing on my toes to becoming a flatfoot,” Johnson told me.
Over the course of her 26 years as a police officer, Johnson worked on investigations of child abuse. She said working with the youth division, a department that investigates child abuse, neglect and exploitation, is what made her time in law enforcement so rewarding.
Johnson is now retired from policing, but spends her mornings and afternoons working as a crossing guard at GDS, where she started in February of 2021. She spends the rest of her time doing chores around the house, grocery shopping, browsing the internet for vacations and sitting on her porch with her mother, who just turned 83.
For as long as she can remember, Johnson has loved working with children. “They are our future, and being around them keeps me young,” she said. She hopes to continue working at GDS for years to come.
Johnson is always excited to engage in conversation with all members of the GDS community. “You never know what a person’s going through,” she said. “If I could bring a smile to anyone’s face by just saying good morning, that’s a brownie point for me.”
Through my conversation with Johnson, it became clear just how much she cares about everybody in our community, and it is fulfilling to be able to share a smile with her each morning.
On April 22, a shooter opened fire near Edmund Burke School. One of the four victims was Tony Harris, a beloved member of the GDS security team. At GDS the next day, students spent time writing letters to Harris and listened to a co-worker speak warmly about his impact on the school community. However, I overheard students asking each other who Harris is and what he looks like, wondering if they had ever seen him before.
Some only learned Harris’s name after reading Head of School Russell Shaw’s email from the day after the shooting. Although many people wrote letters to Harris and prayed for his recovery, very few know much about him. The shooting should serve as a reminder to get to know those who play such significant roles in our school.
My interactions with Johnson and the news about Harris changed my perspective on what coming to school each day is about. Surely students come to learn, and teachers come to teach, but we should also come to create connections with all members of the community. People like Jackson and Harris are integral to life at GDS; they keep the school running and allow students to feel safe on campus. My hope is that my classmates will make the most of their time at GDS by getting to know and forming sincere relationships with the unsung heroes who make each day possible.