Black History Month Feature: Cleotha Johnigan
What drew you to a career in education?
For twenty years, I was employed in the industrial field. I spent much of my off time in youth recreation, coaching baseball, and football in my local community. During that time, our organization started to take a deep dive into the athletic performance of our players and how they were performing in the classroom. Through those initiatives, I began to develop a close working relationship with the administrators and teachers of our program participants. We began to spend time before practice doing homework and tutoring so that our players knew the importance of being student-athletes. A principal who led one of our schools asked if I had ever considered working in education because she saw how well I could motivate students and interact with parents. After some deep thought, I decided to try teaching as a career, and it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. Also, I am a firm believer that representation matters. As a black male, it is important for black students to see themselves represented in their academic journey.
Why is it important to celebrate Black History Month in our classrooms, and what are some of the specific activities or programs planned at your school?
Black History Month highlights the accomplishments of African Americans who helped shape our country’s growth and development and is worthy of being celebrated in our classrooms. Many of the pioneers we highlight provide great teachable moments for our students. The success they experienced in their chosen field could have been derailed by obstacles presented during these turbulent times for black Americans. However, their strength and discipline allowed them to persevere. At Prescott, we encourage our students daily to persevere, strive for accuracy, and do their best work all the time. At Prescott, a couple of initiatives will take place within our building. During "Extended Fridays," students will research black pioneers of their choice and submit a report, presentation, skit, or song to display their understanding of their chosen individual. Also, we will introduce influential African American figures and highlight their accomplishments during our daily morning convocations.
What are your hopes for the future of education in Baton Rouge?
The future of education in Baton Rouge is bright. Establishing charter and specialty schools like the Prescott Academy and others with personalized instructional models that focus on closing the achievement gap for students will only support our city’s children in becoming grade-level proficient or higher when they exit our schools.