When kindergartners walked into Kari Jo Johnson’s classroom, she worked to teach them more than curriculum — she wanted them to be kind.
“I wanted to teach them to read and write and all of the academics, but in the long run, those will come,” she said. “I knew I needed to make a better person and I hope I did that.”
And after 35 years of helping mold young children, Johnson is retiring from the district where she grew up.
“It has given me my livelihood but also made me who I am,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who attended Carriage Hill, then, Papillion Jr. High and Papillion-La Vista High School, has taught kindergarten at G. Stanley Hall, Tara Heights, La Vista West and Trumble Park. She also taught second grade at Carriage Hill for a couple years.
But for the past 28 years, Johnson has taught kindergarten at Trumble Park, a place where she made life-long bonds with her coworkers.
“They really do become family. When I think about it, I spent more time with them than I did my family,” she said. “I’m going to miss them.”
One of her favorite parts of being an educator, Johnson said, is bonding with her students on a deeper level.
“It has been a true blessing for me to be a part of people’s families. I’ve been a part of their life in other ways besides just teaching them to read and write and that has had the biggest impact on me,” she said.
“I’m most proud of the fact that I really did touch over 700 5 and 6 year olds. I’ve been a part of their lives.”
As a teacher, Johnson said she worked to make sure her students felt love and care.
“My biggest role was making sure when they came in every day they were happy to be there,” she said. “You want them to love school. You don’t want them to think of it as a horrible place they have to go every day.”
Though she will miss teaching, Johnson said she is looking forward to her retirement where she plans to spend more time with family and travel.
Other district retirees are Pam Albano, paraprofessional for 22 years at Papillion-La Vista South High School; Rosealee Alley, district driver for eight years; John Lope, district driver for three years; James Guillory, custodian at G. Stanley Hall for 11 years; Mary Lange, secretary at Papillion Middle School for 26 years; Wanda Munson, paraprofessional at G. Stanley Hall for 32 years; Linda Ritonya, custodian at Rumsey Station for 18 years; Karen Thiede, Secretary at Papillion-La Vista South High School for 18 years; and Nancy Veitch, administrative assistant at Papillion-La Vista High School for 27 years.