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Senior Spotlight: Alyssa Johnson helps unify MHS

Alyssa Johnson When Monticello High School started a Unified Schools program a few years ago, there were a number of students that jumped at the chance to take part in this new opportunity.

One of those students was Alyssa Johnson, and for her it was an easy decision.

Unified Schools is a Special Olympics program that focuses on bringing disabled and non-disabled students together through a wide range of activities. Johnson, who has a brother with autism, already knew the importance of inclusion and saw this as an opportunity to spread that message.

A few years later, Annie Emanuel, a paraprofessional at MHS and one of the Unified leaders, says that Johnson has been an integral part of spreading that message and turning Monticello’s Unified program into such a an incredible thing.

“Alyssa has helped lay the foundation for the Unified programs here at the MHS,” said Emanuel. “Because of her dedication to the inclusion movement she has helped bring the idea of students living unified to fruition. Without students like Alyssa, the Unified program would not be growing. Alyssa's commitment to Unified has meant we can continue to thrive as a program and way of life!”

Johnson’s experience with Unified has solidified her interest in a career as a special education teacher. Currently she’s in the midst of her senior year at MHS, where she’s been a standout for four years. Johnson plays volleyball and is involved with a number of different programs. Along with Unified, she’s also a part of the Freshman Mentoring program, and has spent time with Interact.

Assistant Principal John Reeves said that Johnson’s personality and willingness to give are two things that make the MHS hallways shine a little brighter.

Alyssa is generous, gracious and kind in her interactions with peers and staff,” he said. “She puts the needs of others before herself and makes an intentional effort to get involved in student groups that positively impact our school community.”

Unified is certainly the group where she dedicates the majority of her time. The group holds activities every Friday, where students get together for a group chat, then partner up for a variety of activities, such as kickball or walking around the track. In addition to that time, which happens during lunch, Johnson also works daily with the program as a Teacher Assistant. She’s spent so much time with Unified that Johnson said she’s reached the point where she has a secret handshake with nearly every kid in the program.

Reeves said that the relationships Johnson has developed with her peers have not gone unnoticed at MHS.

“Her involvement with our mentor programming and Unified has displayed a servant's heart that is evident to staff and students alike,” he said.

When asked what she’ll miss the most about her time at MHS, her fellow Unified students were the first thing Johnson thought of.

“Honestly, just interacting with all of the kids,” she said. I’ll miss them a lot.”

Johnson has enjoyed a number of other things about MHS. She loved her volleyball experience, admired the Unified leaders, such as Emanuel, Nathan Rowe, Terri Miller, and Tara Storts, and really enjoyed a number of classes, including art and personal finance. But again, when it comes to her favorite experiences, it all comes back to her peers.

“I look forward to coming to school every day for the environment,” she said. “Everyone is so nice to each other.”

Johnson will look to continue her academic career at the collegiate level next year, pursuing a future as a special education teacher.