By 2011, I was well on my way to a college diploma and so too were my former classmates, Bre’ Ann Johnson and Ashley Westbrook. Neither Bre’ Ann nor Ashley considered themselves “at risk.” Bre’ Ann’s eyes widened with surprise when I introduced the term to her.
“Really?!” she exclaimed when I described to her what Richard Baron and other civic leaders were trying to do at Jefferson to improve outcomes.
Bre’ Ann had thought Jefferson was simply getting necessary upgrades provided to all schools. But then Bre’ Ann grew up in a financially stable home with both parents present. And after Jefferson, she got the best of what the St. Louis Public Schools had to offer. She tested for the gifted program and was accepted into McKinley Classical Leadership Academy and went on to the Gateway Institute of Technology (now Gateway STEM High). “I was probably the only person from Jefferson who went to McKinley,” Bre’ Ann told me during a visit to her home in the Penrose neighborhood in north St. Louis. “A lot of people who went to McKinley came from Kennard (the elementary school for gifted students), so I didn’t know anybody. I mean, it was weird I had to put myself out there.”
Bre’ Ann said the magnet school experience challenged her. She had to step up. “Coming from Jefferson I felt as though I really didn’t have to study because I could naturally regurgitate information. A magnet school required more of a critical thinking aspect. That was hard for me to wrap my head around.
“I feel like magnet schools were the places that were optimal learning environments for students that actually wanted to learn and were eager to increase their intellectual capacity. It was both challenging and demanding.”
Bre’ Ann also had the benefit of learning in diverse classrooms. That helped her prepare for Rockhurst University in Kansas City.
On the other hand, I had sat in classes made up entirely of African-Americans. When I attended Saint Louis University, I suddenly found myself a minority and at times self-conscious and timid, afraid to speak up. At other times I wondered whether I was living up to expectations without really knowing what the expectations were.
Bre' Ann got married in 2014 to Russell Johnson, a maintenance operator at the Metropolitan Sewer District. The wedding was held at St. Stanislaus Church, a stone's throw from Jefferson School, and the two have bought a home in the Penrose neigborhood not far away. Bre' Ann and Russell are expecting a child in a few months. In the meantime, Bre' Ann has returned to school to work on her master's in fitness training.
Bre’ Ann Jones Johnson
By Evita Caldwell
Photos By J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Bre' Ann Jones Johnson went to Rockhurst University in Kansas City, but returned home to St. Louis where she got married in a church across the street from Jefferson School. She now lives with her husband in the Penrose neighborhood nearby.