Dawn Marie Johnson | Summit 21st CCLC OST and Summer Enrichment Director, Summit 21st Century Community Learning Center, Summit, South Dakota

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I am the Director of Summit’s 21st Century Community Learning Center Out of School Time and Summer Program. I was sought out by Summit School District when they were awarded the 21st Century Grant to start, build, grow, and host a successful afterschool (aka OST) and summer program. I oversee 12 staff members, uphold the Department of Social Services policies as a licensed childcare provider, and ensure we are meeting grant standards. Outside of those duties, I host numerous successful community events each year. Since 2016, I have helped double our attendance in our afterschool and summer program, have been selected as Summit’s community member of Spring 2016, have been nominated to apply for the Annie E. Casey Foundation Children and Family Fellowship, had our OST and Summer Program selected to be highlighted in a final case study for the Department of Education in 2018, and was accepted in Advanced Standings to pursue my Master of Social Work through the University of South Dakota. I completed my first semester last summer and achieved a 4.0 GPA. My journey of education began in 2008, when I was one of the first of my extended family to attend college. I am a co-founder of Children’s Health Always Matters Partnership (C.H.A.M.P.), serve on USD’s Social Work Advisory Board annually, and take an active role in South Dakota School Age Care Alliance (SoDakSACA) group that advocates for afterschool programs and communities.

The community I serve is a rural town with a population of 288. We have a diverse population of Caucasian, Hispanic and Native American people. Resources in this area are minimal. We like to joke about having to drive 45 minutes for groceries, but it is the reality of our living. In fall 2017, our afterschool program enrolled 111 out of 156 students in the school. Out of those 111 students, 80 of those qualified for free and reduced lunch. What these statistics say to me is that we have working and non-employed families living in our communities who deal with financial and hunger hardships. In fall 2017, we averaged 55 to 65 students that attended our afterschool program each day. This is due to various reasons. First, our program provides a safe space, enrichment, and a free snack Monday through Thursday for students 5 to 17 years old and is the only establishment that is free in our area. Second, for parents and guardians who work longer than regular school hours, the only option is to trust that their children are safe at home or they pay for daycare. Last, our program provides opportunities and activities that students would not usually get to experience living in a rural area. Our grant requires us to report on our academic, physical fitness, STEM, arts, community service, and college and career readiness. I take pride in the fact that we have completed many community service projects in our area. Since the start of our program in 2016, students seventh to 12th who regularly attended our afterschool program averaged 50-plus hours of community service every year. Projects such as community cleanup, volunteer work for events, leading clubs, painting benches, volunteering at nursing homes and humane societies, and so on, make a significant impact in small communities.

Working with the students and staff to promote change and service requires more than being a leader. The connection I have acquired and maintained with the students, staff and community has a substantial impact on their life. I strive to assist them in developing stronger beliefs in their own power and I hope to provide them with a bigger picture of their lifetime influences. The opportunity I have to take action, make meaningful contributions and make connections is less about my position and more about my inherent quality to do right by the people around me.

Specific goals for myself would be for those I hire to feel like they could walk away from their experience working with me as a better leader. As for students, I want to build a respectable program that sets them up for success and provide them with life skills and knowledge to take ownership of their decisions. Lastly, another goal of mine is to produce community programs that are self-sustaining, self-reliant and confident in their ability to build on community assets. If I obtain the skills to build confidence in my staff, teach lifelong skills to youth, and develop programs that are self-sufficient, I would be able to ensure a healthy community that will produce healthy people long after I am gone.

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