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CCS Alum Brings Anti-Violence Program to East Linden Elementary

group of students

February 16, 2024 Fifth-grade students at East Linden Elementary School are the first in the city to experience an anti-violence program led by a professional federal agent.

Special Agent Antonio Johnson has deep roots in the Northeast neighborhoods of Columbus. Before his work at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,presentation Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), Johnson attended Maize Elementary, Clinton Middle School and graduated from Northland High School. He attributes his formative years in the District to shaping the person he is today.

“Throughout my entire history of education, I’ve always had one or two teachers that took interest in me and made sure I got where I needed to be,” said Johnson. “They knew what I was capable of when I didn’t. They helped me live up to my capabilities.”

A proud product of Columbus City Schools (CCS) with a heart for the city of his youth, Johnson is on a mission to give back to the students in his community.

“If you’re a person who truly believes in paying things forward and reaching back, and you’ve traveled in the shoes of many of these kids, then you almost feel like it’s a responsibility,” said Johnson. “When you start listening and talking to them, you’re able to identify with them, and that allows them to start believing in themselves.”

Johnson introduced the Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T) Program to the fifth-graders at East Linden Elementary School as part of this commitment. This free, nationally recognized anti-gang and anti-bullying initiative has programs in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Baltimore. The six-week program guides students to ask big questions about the situations they face inside and outside of school.

“[This program] boils down to simple decision-making,” said Johnson. “But the conversations we had weren’t simple.”

For one hour each week, Johnson held honest conversations with the students about their struggles outside of the classroom. Johnson even shared stories he had experienced as a former student within the District. As a federal agent, Johnson and his colleagues are hard at work to change the narrative of what it means to be in law enforcement.

“I don’t want the students to see law enforcement as a role in the community that put people in jail,” Johnson said. “We are far more than that. We are educators, we are fathers, we are wives, we are husbands, we are teachers.”

Fifth-grader Charrysh Amor-Groves shared how the exercises led by Johnson helped prepare her for middle school.

“The G.R.E.A.T. Program was fun,” said Amor-Groves. “Some things we learned about were bullying and being a bystander. We read plays about bullying on the bus. We all had a chance to act in the scenes and to talk about what happened in the play. I will take this lesson learned in the G.R.E.A.T. Program with me to middle school and beyond.”

Classmate Tae’Yon Gray said the program helped him understand how to control his emotions better.

“What I learned was to make choices to control my anger as well as to be a great citizen. I enjoyed everything about the program,” said Gray. “It would be great if every school was able to have this program.”

Johnson hopes the success of the G.R.E.A.T. Program at the school will inspire surrounding elementary schools to look into anti-violence programming that will benefit not only the students but the community as a whole.

“This is a full circle moment for Agent Johnson in giving back and planting seeds in children's futures,” said East Linden Principal Cheryl Jones. “Our students can dream to be involved with federal agent careers [now that they have] exposure.”

Power of One

Priority 1 - Whole Child FocusedPriority 2 - Equitable Opportunities for AllPriority 3 - Strong Learning Communities in Every RegionPriority 4 - Authentic EngagementPortrait Attribute 1 - AdaptabilityPortrait Attribute 2 - CommunicationPortrait Attribute 3 - CreativityPortrait Attribute 4 - Critical ThinkingPortrait Attribute 5 - Global EmpathyPortrait Attribute 6 - Technology