JC Schools Alum Ebony Johnson excels in career as a physical therapist

Posted by Brittany Ruess on 2/10/2021 1:55:00 PM

In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month and called upon the public to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."

In honor of Black History Month, we are recognizing three incredible JC Schools alumni who have excelled in their careers. 

First in the series is Ebony Johnson, a physical therapist at the Special Learning Center in Jefferson City. Thanks for tuning into this series and helping us celebrate some remarkable alumni. 

Born in Springfield, Missouri, Ebony Johnson and her family moved to Jefferson City when she was six months old. She attended parochial school until fifth grade, and while she says she enjoyed the faith aspect, Ebony says there wasn’t as much diversity as she was wanting in her school. She went on to attend Lewis & Clark Middle School in sixth grade, as a student in its first-ever sixth grade class.

Supporting children with special needs

Today, Ebony does some of the most incredible work in our community. She helps young children, ranging in age from three to five or six, get ready for school. She helps them break physical barriers so that when they go to kindergarten, they can focus on their learning. 

She does this by showing them how to balance, maneuver through a classroom, hold and balance a tray to get them ready for the luncline and more.

“(I help) getting their core strong to sit up in the classroom, in the seat to be able to do the pre-academic skills that they’ll need for when they transition on to kindergarten,” Ebony said. “Really just whatever support we can give to teachers to help get this child’s body right so their mind can be ready for learning, to put it in a nutshell. That’s what I work on.”

Working with children who are non-verbal has led to some of the most challenging yet rewarding moments of her career. Ebony says those moments when a child accomplishes a goal that they’ve worked so hard on can bring her to tears.

“There are a couple times in session (when I tell myself), ‘I’m not going to cry, I’m not going to cry,’” she said. “For instance, I have a friend (SLC child) who we are working on pumping her legs back and forth on the swing, so that child can be independent in swinging...To see the child going from me having to push and me being hand over hand getting their legs back and forth to them taking off and doing it themselves...It’s just reassuring that I am getting through to them, they are communicating and I am listening...That just fuels me, that I am understanding them, regardless if they can use their words or not.”

Ebony’s journey to success

Ebony originally wanted to be a pediatrician. To help get her prepared, she volunteered at the Special Learning Center in high school and also worked at the Walgreens pharmacy. Ebony eventually babysat for families with children attending the Special Learning Center, and she was first introduced to the impact she could make on the lives of children with special needs and their families. 

“It’s our biggest investment as a parent, my children. I will do anything for my children, and just that understanding of, can I help this family with their day-to-day life? Can I help their family in any kind of way? The more challenging that is, the more I’m drawn to it just to help one aspect of their life be a little bit better,” she said. 

After graduating from Jefferson City High School in 2001, Ebony attended Xavier University in New Orleans. She earned a bachelor of science degree in biology with a minor in chemistry. Ebony married her husband and together, they had four kids. For many years, Ebony was a stay at home mom -- an experience which she says helps her better relate to the families she serves today. 

Ebony eventually went back to school, attending graduate school as a non-traditional student in her dream of becoming a physical therapist. 

“I would say it is definitely a challenge but it is, at the same time, very rewarding, and if I can do it, anybody can do it. I had the goal. My parents both went back to school and got degrees as non-traditional students, so I had that model for me,” she said. “Don’t be overwhelmed, depressed, sad if you don’t make that goal and it didn’t follow that exact path. Just be encouraged that no matter how many times you have to reroute, if you missed your turn, it’s OK. There’s another way to get there. Just don’t ever lose sight of that goal.”

JC Schools education plays major role in Ebony’s life

Ebony’s JC Schools education was formative for her, giving her opportunities to experience leadership as a middle schooler and take advantage of advanced placement classes. 

“At Lewis and Clark, I was selected as a student who got to go to other schools and look at block scheduling,” she said. “(The district) wanted the students’ perspective (on block scheduling), which I thought was fantastic. They’re asking us, as students, what we want and I felt so big. We got to travel and go to different schools and rotate to different classes with them.” 

Reflecting on her time at JCHS, Ebony says school counselor Iva Presberry, who is retired, made an impact on her life. Ebony had her sights set on Xavier University, but Presberry asked her question after question to help Ebony be certain she was making the right choice.

Ebony also remembers science teacher Anne Hutton coming to class with a genuine enthusiasm to see her students learn. The dissections in Hutton’s class paid off big time for Ebony in physical therapy school when she and her classmates dissected a human cadaver. While other students passed out, Ebony was able to stay calm and collected. 

Her ability to control her emotions also helps in her professional career as she enters families’ homes when the children and their families are having a rough day. 

Ebony says she loves being a physical therapist for the Special Learning Center and being able to provide support to children in their homes as well as at the SLC. 

“I love being able to work with kids in both settings.”