By Cathi Douglas
For more than 23 years, Petra Davis-Johnson has helped students build spirit, love, and support for Las Flores Middle School as a science teacher and activities director.
In recognition of her years of service and innovation, Davis-Johnson was recently named the nation’s top middle level student council adviser by the National Student Council, supported by NatStuCo’s parent organization, the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Davis-Johnson developed Las Flores’s original Associated Student Body program, guiding her students’ growth and helping them build their capacity as leaders on campus. She challenges her students, whom she calls “my leaders,” to think outside the box when designing activities or brainstorming themes. Davis-Johnson was also recently recognized by the California Association of Directors of Activities as the Middle School Activities Director of the Year.
“As an educator, Davis-Johnson has worked to extend learning beyond the traditional boundaries of school, allowing for her students to better understand how to be civically engaged and how to find their voices through activities and service,” said National Association of Secondary School Principals CEO Ronn Nozoe.
“We’re proud to honor Petra Davis-Johnson with the 2021 Warren E. Shull Middle Level Adviser of the Year Award for the work she’s done helping students to develop their passion for leadership,” Nozoe said.
The annual award is named for Warren E. Shull, the founder of National Student Council, and recognizes middle level and high school student council advisers for their exemplary character, leadership, and commitment to young people, and for fostering student leadership development.
“Petra is definitely a jewel in the leadership crown for the school and the state,” says Jeff R. Sherrill, NatStuCo’s associate director.
Tim Reece, Las Flores principal, agrees.
“Petra landed here from the beginning of the school and established a well-run, recognized program,” Reece says. “She’s obviously known as a wonderful leader who has trained student-leaders here, helped with activities and leadership, and has just made things fun and entertaining for the entire Las Flores community.”
A Tustin resident and mother of two stepchildren, Davis-Johnson now is activities director at Tesoro High School and is finishing her 30th year with the Capistrano Unified School District.
As opposed to teaching science, she notes that directing and teaching activities in the ASB and PAL (Peer Assistance Leadership) classes takes a different mindset.
“I get to see them at their happiest and most excited,” she says. “It’s hard to describe the ASB class. There’s so much energy bubbling out all the time. I get to see the students at their best.”
Coping with pandemic restrictions was frustrating and limiting to the student leaders, but Davis-Johnson is looking forward to the next academic year, when she can help them learn how to be back on campus, how to engage, and to “be a little wild, crazy, and spirited.”
“I think it might take a while for that to happen, but I’m hoping that throughout the year I’ll build relationships with the kids,” she says.
Davis-Johnson is active in the California Association for Directors of Activities, organizing summer camps, bringing leadership development days to the district, and hosting leadership education workshops for students. She serves on the area council, hosts adviser conferences, and often presents at professional conferences.
This year she was able to help them plan a dodgeball tournament, graduation on campus, and the senior luau as coronavirus isolation eased.
“It hasn’t been the easiest but we’re trying to make the most of it, giving the kids grace to be upset that they’ve essentially lost a year of activities,” she said.
Davis-Johnson observes that studies show the most successful adults were formerly the students who were most engaged with activities at their schools, something that continues to motivate her in working with student leaders.
“They get excited about activities outside of the classroom,” she says. “It’s good to be part of building that love and spirit.”