In recent years, many Great Hearts graduates have started to return to the network to teach. In a new series of interviews, Betsy K. Brown asks these young educators to reflect on their experiences in the classroom and what brought them back.
Darrah Johnson graduated from Trivium Preparatory Academy in 2018. She was a fifth grade teaching assistant at Archway Trivium West in 2018 and has been working as in Exceptional Student Services at Trivum Prep since 2020.
Betsy Brown: What do you love about the subject you teach, and what inspired you to teach it?
Darrah Johnson: Exceptional Student Services is the sleeping giant of Great Hearts; we work very hard behind the scenes. I started going to Trivium in 2011, the year it opened, when I was in sixth grade. At that point, Trivium didn’t have an ESS program. It wasn’t until I graduated that I realized I could have really benefited from that. I have ADHD and I struggled with executive function and time management. Even before I was working at Archway I was thinking I would really like to go into ESS at a Great Hearts school because we say all the time that everybody deserves this education, that everyone deserves to have access to Plato and Dostoyevsky and Dickens, but there is definitely something lost in abridged versions of these texts. The really beautiful thing about ESS is that we work hard to give the kids exactly what the other kids are getting, but on a different schedule that works better for their needs. I have a leg up because I can go back and think, what about this class or homework load or senior thesis was really difficult for me? and then I can ask the kids what they are struggling with. Even if they aren’t sure, I feel like I can translate what they need because I grew up with Trivium.
What motivated you to come back to Trivium?
It kind of fell into my lap. Our last headmaster Heidi Vasiloff was the headmaster when I was in high school as well as my seventh grade science teacher. After I finished high school, they were looking for a fifth grade TA. Admin asked Heidi and Heidi asked me. At this point I feel like I have found what I am definitely working toward in school now, teaching my own classes and continuing to work with ESS.
How has being a Great Hearts graduate informed the way you teach? What is something you experienced as a student that you now strive to incorporate as a teacher?
At Trivium I saw people who passionate about their work. They were enthralled by what they were teaching, and through that I became passionate. For example, my eleventh grade calculus teacher opened up a whole world for me. I had never been a “math person,” but in that class I finally saw math as beautiful, and learning as something to do for its own sake.
In their senior year, students start to take responsibility over the broadening of their hearts—they start to focus on what keeps them interested in learning and that is beautiful to watch.
What has changed about Trivium in your experience over the years? What has stayed the same?
At Trivium we focus on how good it is to have fun while also questioning the world around us and asking what is the point of being a human being. I think there is a lot of love there. There was a lot of trial and error at the beginning; we didn’t even have an assistant headmaster or a dean at that point. So logistically the school has improved a lot, and broadened the services it is able to offer students, but we have not lost that element of doing something because we love it.