NORTH FULTON, Ga. — One rising senior at Chattahoochee High School has recently earned her Girl Scout Gold Award by raising awareness about students with disabilities.
Brionika Johnson, 18, seems like any other student with a part-time job headed to college, but doctors weren’t always sure if she would ever see any academic success.
When she was 15 months old, Johnson suffered from a traumatic brain injury. Extensive surgery saved her, but left her with a scar on the left side of her brain that caused her to develop a learning disability at a young age.
“Most teachers, when I first started having this issue in middle school, couldn’t understand it,” Johnson said. “They thought that I couldn’t handle it, that I couldn’t pass middle school.”
Johnson’s childhood injury had left her with short-term memory loss and problems with focusing. But with the help of an Individualized Education Program and some tutors, she has since graduated from middle school and is well on the way to graduating high school as well. She has also been selected as a PTSA Ambassador, has been holding a steady part-time job and is a member of the Varsity Basketball Cheers Squad.
“No matter how you grew up or your mental condition, you are just as capable of doing things as other people. For me, it took more work, but I’ve reached my goal and to where I wanted to be,” Johnson said. “You can do anything you put your mind to – no matter how many people say you can’t do this or you’re just not capable… The most important thing is to not give up.”
One of her goals was to complete the Girl Scout Gold Award, which is the highest recognition a Scout can attain by making a difference or providing awareness on an issue dear to them.
“The project I selected is very personal to me, which included designing a video to help educate teachers, administrative staff, and other adults about relating to students who have different academic learning styles,” Johnson said. “Eighty percent of students base their self-worth on academic performance.”
Johnson said it’s important for teachers and students with disabilities to work together, because everyone’s needs and learning styles differ. A student, for example, might be just as capable as their peers in taking a quiz, but he or she may need help reading the questions or getting moved into the room.
“For teachers, it can be very difficult for them, because they don’t know what’s inside our heads or how we feel,” she said. “They don’t understand, because they’re not you. They don’t see what you go through every day or when you go home. They don’t go through the same struggles that you go through.”
It’s a two-way street, Johnson said, the teachers and students need to be open with each other about their needs and expectations to get the best results.
“We are different from most students,” Johnson said. “It takes more time for us to get there, but we get there.”
As one of her steps to earn her Gold Award, Johnson gave multiple speeches, including one with PTA members, teachers and Fulton County officials. She also made it a goal to speak to as many students as she could about the subject.
“Students are just as important,” Johnson said. “They are the ones that need to hear that they can do it. The big word is ‘relationship.’ You need to make relationships with other people to help them understand you.”
To see Johnson’s video and hear more of her story, visit youtube.com/watch?v=ihkva7Frlmc.