Education News

Amy Johnston helped build community at Robinson School

AMY JOHNSTON HAS spent the past three decades working to support students at Robinson Elementary School, as well as their teachers and families. She will retire at the end of this school year after 32 years at the Starksboro school. 
Photo courtesy of Amy Johnston

STARKSBORO — Over the past three decades, Amy Johnston has become a key part of the Robinson Elementary School community. 

Through her post as school counselor, she’s helped support students passing through the Starksboro school, as well as their teachers and families. 

“Robinson is a really unique and special school, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed there for so long,” Johnston said during a recent interview. “The dedication of the teachers and staff is unusual. The enthusiasm, energy and hard work has always inspired me.” 

Now, Johnston, after 32 years at her post, is preparing to step down and make space for someone new.

“Thirty-two years felt like a good time to move on and let someone young and fresh start in this position,” she said. “It’s an important role, and I think having somebody young with lots of energy and enthusiasm will only help Robinson move forward.” 

Johnston began working as a school counselor at Robinson in 1992. Prior to that, she’d worked at the Northlands Job Corps Center in Vergennes and obtained a graduate degree in school counseling from the University of Vermont. 

Johnston saw the school counselor role as one that melded a couple of her interests. 

“I loved school as a kid, and I think that it was a way of combining my interests in education and mental health,” she explained. 

Johnston wears several hats as a school counselor, working directly with all of Robinson’s students and teachers, as well as with families and community members. 

“Some of what I do is teach in classrooms social skills and emotion regulation and basically social emotional learning,” Johnston said. “I also work with small groups of students on a variety of topics, ranging from divorce groups to social skill groups, and also work with some individuals.” 

Over the years, Johnston has also taught parenting classes and collaborated with parents, families and teachers to help students grow academically, emotionally and socially.  

One of Johnston’s contributions to the elementary school has been spearheading the mentoring program at Robinson. Johnston developed the program in 2005, pairing pupils with adult mentors in the community.  

“Starksboro is a really unique community with involved townspeople that really support the school and love the kids and families in it,” Johnston said. “I realized by developing a program where kids could connect with a community member and spend time with them, that relationship could help kids grow in all ways and be exposed to all kinds of new experiences and ways of living and ways of viewing the world.” 

The program eventually expanded to each of the elementary schools in the Mount Abraham Unified School District, as well as to Mount Abraham Union Middle/High School. Johnston said there’s now around 100 mentor-mentee matches across the district’s schools. 

Participating mentors sign on for a one-year commitment with the idea that they’ll stay with a student as long as possible. 

The program has proven to be fruitful for all involved. 

“Mentors have loved the close relationships and connections they’ve had with the school, and I’ve watched kids grow in a 12-plus-year relationship, graduate from high school and thank their mentors for changing their lives,” Johnston said. “It’s really a beautiful thing to see.” 

SUPPORTING STUDENTS 

While each school year has been unique, Johnston said the heart of her work has remained the same over the past three decades. 

“For me, it’s really all been about kids needing relationships and connections with safe grown-ups,” she said. “When kids fall in love with their teachers and school, they oftentimes will trust their teachers and fall in love with learning. It’s all connected.” 

She said one thing that’s changed over the years is the expectations of classroom teachers. 

“What’s asked now of a classroom teacher is to differentiate instruction for every student at every level, and there’s a huge amount of testing that’s required, standards that they have to meet, and that can be really stressful for teachers,” Johnston said. 

Johnston said the most important way to support students is by supporting those educators and the other adults in pupils’ lives. 

“When the adults around kids are doing well, kids feel comfortable and safe to do well,” she said. “Kids want to learn and grow, and when you have supportive adults around them, they do.” 

She said she’s found the Robinson community to be a supportive and nurturing. 

“The unique thing about Robinson is that I feel the teachers, the staff and the community work closely with students and families to help them grow and learn,” Johnston said. 

Working alongside Robinson’s dedicated staff, as well as the connections she’s made with students, their families and the Starksboro community are what Johnston will miss most when she caps off her time at the elementary school later this month. 

Though Johnston acknowledges it’s time to begin a new journey and she’s looking forward to what’s ahead, she plans to continue working in some capacity, as well as dive into fun and rewarding hobbies like playing the piano, pickleball, and spending time with family. 

Whatever lies ahead, Johnston’s time at Robinson will stick with her. 

“Starksboro and Robinson are magical, and I will miss them greatly,” she said. 

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