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Jodi Johnson


Teen Advisory Group

229 W. Michigan Avenue
Ypsilanti, Michigan 48197
Young Adult Librarian Jodi Johnson has created a safe and stimulating sanctuary for local kids at Ypsilanti District Library’s Michigan Avenue Branch. It’s built on mutual respect and trust. As the adult guide of the Teen Advisory Group, Johnson sees the at-risk kids who participate taking responsibility and learning from their leadership experience. 
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Ypsilanti District Library Young Adult Librarian Jodi Johnson: Being a leader means providing resources, mentoring, guidance, and support to others to help them accomplish a group goal. I think a good leader needs a broad vision of where the group should go, but then allows group members to share their ideas and opinions to shape a shared mission, help create plans, and take on specific tasks to accomplish goals. Leading students in this way not only lets them learn how to work together, it allows them to be successful at what’s important to them instead of someone telling them what to do, ultimately giving them the chance to control outcomes and see that they can make changes in their world.
One example of the way this works is the Haunted Library program the Teen Advisory Group (TAG) just planned. I knew we would work with the national Teen Read Week theme “It Came from the Library.” I saw a swamp monster graphic, thought of horror, and set the date. The teens brainstormed ideas in meetings. I researched and fleshed out ideas and let them know what was doable and what wasn’t. They finalized the plan. My manager and I got the supplies, a local artist helped, teens
It can be stressful to work with teens who have so many obstacles to attaining their goals, like parents in poor health, with too many responsibilities and little education, who want the best for their children, but don’t know what’s required...
decorated and acted in the haunted house and led the crafts, their ideas took shape and made a fun event for almost 50 teens in the community!
What is your dream for kids?
My dream is for every child to be able to have an equal chance to realize life dreams and goals regardless of family income, race, or gender. It can be stressful to work with teens who have so many obstacles to attaining their goals, like parents in poor health, with too many responsibilities and little education, who want the best for their children, but don’t know what’s required, don’t have the resources to help them succeed, and haven’t been successful in life and so can’t model success. Other teen obstacles are low family income, abusive relationships, mental illness, criminal records, and failing schools. Seeing small changes and knowing the changes came from work I do directly with students help me stay positive about what I do and remember that the library can make a difference in teens’ lives!
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
More funding! Like so many other cities and towns in Michigan that grew as part of the auto industry, Ypsilanti, a city of 22,000, has lost 1,600 jobs since 2001 and 25 percent of residents in the city currently live below the poverty line. The library is primarily funded through property taxes collected in the city, Ypsilanti Township, and part of Superior Township. As property values decline, the budget shrinks. Youth programs are also heavily financed by the Friends of the Library, which has seen reduced revenues as people buy less used books. As a library, we purchase fewer materials every year and are now looking at cutting programs to stay within the shrinking budget. We need to be even more creative with our limited resources or there will be fewer opportunities at the library for youth to learn new skills and interact with adults and peers in positive ways after school next year.
With the current economic state of the country and Michigan, I know the government doesn’t have extra money to give nonprofits, but I think tax money should be invested in young people to give them better opportunities to be successful in life.  A fairly high percentage of teens at my library have been through the juvenile court system. I believe that if the state or federal government invests more money in programs such as job internships for teens, the juvenile crime rate would be lower and less money would need to be spent on prosecuting and incarcerating teens. The teens I work with are smart and creative but need guidance, role models, opportunities to learn on the job, and to earn money. Earning a little bit of money, learning how to manage it and how to conduct themselves at a job would make it easier to choose to work rather than get into trouble, ultimately costing the government less money. Good examples of successful teen job programs are the Ypsilanti Ozone House’s WorkZone, which trained and placed teens during a summer program funded by a grant, and its ongoing Peer Outreach Worker positions. I would love to be able to pay teens for some of what they do at the library, too. Funding afterschool and evening programs like those we offer at the library that give teens constructive, educational activities to participate is also important and a better use of money than paying to lock teens up after they’ve gotten into trouble.
How do you know you’re making progress?
I measure progress informally by noting change in individual students and seeing the library serve an increasing number of teens from a broader segment of the population. In terms of individuals, I know I’m making progress when I see individual students grow and change over the course of a year. Change looks different with every student depending on where she or he is in life. It might mean taking personal responsibility for actions and following through on library volunteer tasks, getting a job and sticking with it, staying out of juvenile detention, talking through a conflict instead of using physical violence, participating in constructive activities at the library or in the community, completing high school, enrolling in college, and in general finding direction in life before having to move to the adult floor of the library at age 20. I keep pushing students to go to school, reminding them that they are in control of their lives and can make choices now to help them attain what they want
Students’ creativity and efforts allow the library to offer a wide variety of ever-changing, educational, and fun teen programs throughout the year, including writing and performing opportunities to share what they learn at the library and beyond.
in the future, helping them find resources they need such as online job applications and school information, and teaching them to follow up on job applications and with volunteer projects. I know I’m making progress in reaching more teens as program attendance numbers increase and I see new faces at programs. 
I also keep library’s mission in mind as I set personal and teen advisory goals. I monitor how the programs I offer improve teens’ lives in small ways by teaching them a new skill or expanding their knowledge of the world and foster all types of literacy, from media, technology and computer literacy to traditional book literacy.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of making the Teen Advisory Group into a skill building, teen-led group that supports the library’s mission, creates a welcoming, safe atmosphere for all teens in the library’s Teen Zone, and contributes to downtown Ypsilanti teen services. Students’ creativity and efforts allow the library to offer a wide variety of ever-changing, educational, and fun teen programs throughout the year, including writing and performing opportunities to share what they learn at the library and beyond. Examples include our annual summer Shout it Out program that gives teens a stage on which to showcase their talents to the community and our Teen Voices publication that features teen writing and art and is designed by students and published online. Leading TAG also gives me the chance to know students well enough to tailor programs to their needs as well as interests. Individuals and community organizations have led workshops in healthy relationships, communication, HIV awareness, as well what teens have directly requested like music, writing, tattooing, drawing, etc. Teen advisory members have an authentic voice in the library and community.
What do you see as the biggest barriers to school success for youth in Ypsilanti?
There are so many obstacles that work together to prevent my students’ success in high school and beyond, it’s difficult to pull them apart and name just a few.  Some barriers are beyond students’ control such as family abuse, parental drug use, neighborhood criminal activity, absent or uninvolved parents, depression and stress caused by life circumstances. Some barriers are caused by poor choices students make such as using drugs, skipping school, and participating in illegal activities. All of these combined make it difficult for students to be successful in school or have a chance at attaining their post-high school dreams.
Add to these the current condition of the public schools and success seems even more unlikely. Two out the three public high schools in Ypsilanti are considered lowest performing schools by the state’s standards. As the schools decline, parents who have the time, transportation, and resources to search for other options pull their students out and send them to private and charter schools. This means fewer students present on student count day, less money from the state, and fewer opportunities, creating a vicious downward cycle. This year Ypsilanti High School had 229 fewer students enrolled and overall the district lost $2.2 million in state funding. In the just past few months, annarbor.com has reported that the school district has considered closing the swimming pool, no longer has a cheerleading squad, cut support staff, and the principal who was hired to lead a redesign due to the school’s standing in the bottom five percent of state high schools, is currently on leave for an investigation into undisclosed accusations. The Michigan School Data Report cites the graduation rate is 71.6%, with only 8% college ready according to ACT standards. Willow Run, another high school within the library’s district, only has 58.7% graduation rate.
And yet students are graduating, getting jobs, and pursuing higher education, and participating in leadership of multiple downtown teen organizations. And they succeed despite the odds, which allows me to continue to hope and motivates me to provide quality opportunities for those who choose to come to the library! 
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Program Profile


  • Ypsilanti District Library-Michigan Avenue
    As a community resource, the Ypsilanti District Library's mission is to enrich life, stimulate intellectual curiosity, foster literacy, and encourage an informed citizenry.


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