On May 2, Synera Johnson proudly donned her cap and gown to accept her Bachelor of Science degree in Liberal Studies: Professional Studies, with minors in Early Childhood Education and Professional Education.
Johnson is what some might call a late bloomer in the academic world. She dropped out of middle school to have her first child at age 15 and did not return to a classroom for 12 years. At age 27, the mother of three enrolled as a high school student at Benjamin Franklin High School. She graduated with honors in June 1990, and that fall entered Community College of Philadelphia as a full-time student.
Over the next 15 years, Johnson continued to attend the College either as a full-time or part-time student, depending on the demands of her family and the need to work to support them. In 2003, her youngest son Frank died at age 20, after being injured in a motorcycle accident. “It was important for me to earn my degree to encourage my children to get their degree, so I kept going back,” she said.
At times, she worked two jobs to stay afloat. “I never gave up. I kept going back,” she said. The one year Johnson did not take a class was 2003—the year Frank was killed.
Johnson’s 17-year sojourn at the College ended in May 2007 when at age 46, she received an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education. “It was amazing,” said Johnson. “I had been there so long it was like leaving family.”
Johnson said she was well prepared when she enrolled at West Chester University in the fall of 2007 as a full-time student. “The Early Childhood Education faculty and several other classes within my curricula truly prepared me for a four-year institution,” she said.
When her two oldest children—a daughter Nicole and son Michael—had embarked on their own careers, Johnson moved out of her North Philadelphia home and into a coed dorm at West Chester. She enjoyed life on campus and her studies. “I welcomed every opportunity to learn more about children and how they develop, as well as ways to assist their parents and teachers with their development,” Johnson said.
At West Chester, Johnson continued to prove her intellectual mettle, graduating with a cumulative 3.35 grade point average and a 4.0 GPA in her final term.
“I have put more of myself into my classes this past year, preparing myself for graduate school,” she said. “Up to this point, I have never been this challenged. These classes are improving my reading comprehension and analytical thinking. They are not just asking me to think outside the box, they are teaching me to think about the box.”
Johnson is approaching the prospect of two years of graduate school at the Erikson Institute with the same enthusiasm that carried her through undergraduate classes. “I will never grow tired of learning,” she said.
She shares the philosophy of the Erikson Institute that every adult who works with young children or on their behalf will be knowledgeable, aware, skilled and alive to the possibilities of each child’s life.
“Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand,” Johnson said, quoting a Chinese proverb that she sees as the foundation of child development. “You need to help the children develop cognitively, emotionally, socially and physically in order for them to obtain the full potential of their life.”
Next up on Johnson’s educational path is the Early Childhood Education doctoral program at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College in New York. Her desire is to instruct teachers how to teach in multilocation day care centers. “I don’t know where or what agency I am going to work for or with once I have obtained all my academic credentials,” she said. “I just know what I desire and that God will make a way when the time comes.”