March 26, 2014

Jessica Pope
Communications and Media Relations Coordinator

Johnnie Marshall Jr. Believes All Students Can Learn

VSU alumnus Johnnie Marshall Jr. inspires low-income, first-generation high school or college students who are struggling learners with potential at Valdosta Early College Academy. 

VALDOSTA — As a child in the 1.2-square-mile city of Whigham, Johnnie Marshall Jr. believed two things were certain about his life — He was a faithful believer in God and he wanted to become a teacher when he grew up. He understood the true value and life-changing potential of an education, wisdom he now shares with his middle school students at the Valdosta Early College Academy (VECA) in Valdosta.

Marshall, a fifth-generation educator, was inspired to teach after listening to many, varied inspirational stories of his family history. He discovered that his lineage as a teacher originated on an Alabama plantation, with his great-great-grandfather, Dan Marshall, a child born to two slaves.

“I am the great-great-grandson of a child born to slaves in Three-Notch, Ala., on a plantation,” he explained. “My great-great-grandfather … was blessed with an opportunity to psychologically liberate himself through teaching. With the priceless gift of knowledge, ... (he) took the instruction he acquired and began planting the seed of life in those who were uneducated. His goal was to become an educator and minister. Through his unconditional services in the profession, he helped establish six schools and churches in Alabama.”

Johnnie Marshall Jr. graduated magna cum laude — or with great distinction — from Valdosta State University (VSU) in May 2010 with a Bachelor of Science in Education (B.S.Ed.), specifically middle grades education, and the certification to teach social studies and science in the state of Georgia. Three years later he graduated from VSU again, this time with a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in middle grades education math and science.

Although his first day standing at the helm of his very own classroom at VECA was on Aug. 9, 2010, Marshall has been with the school since its establishment five-plus years ago, serving as a classroom observer, tutor, mentor, and student teacher.

A partnership between VSU, especially the James L. and Dorothy H. Dewar College of Education and Human Services, and the Valdosta City School System, VECA accepted its first class of students in 2008. Its mission is to ensure that every child realizes his or her academic potential, and it targets low-income, first-generation high school or college students who are struggling learners with potential. Dedicated and hard-working students are allowed to start earning college credit at VSU once they reach the 11th grade, through a sort of specialized dual enrollment initiative. With the start of the 2014-2015 academic year, it will serve students in grades sixth through 12th.

As a VSU junior, Marshall had the opportunity to interact with, instruct, and advise VECA’s inaugural class. Five years later, having taught at the school for three years, he celebrated 11 members of that legacy class submitting their applications to VSU.

“The genuine gratitude received from students and their parents — felt, seen, and heard that night — reminded me of my mission,” he said. “Our VECA scholars are breaking generational chains for themselves, their families, and posterity. I am blessed beyond measure to have the opportunity to help cultivate and plow their cerebral grounds and sow seeds of infinite possibilities.”         

Marshall has taught eighth-grade Georgia studies since 2010 and eighth-grade physical science since 2011, and he previously taught seventh-grade world studies from 2010 to 2011. He was named VECA Teacher of the Year in 2013. He is married to Marci Garner Marshall, who earned two degrees from VSU, a Bachelor’s of Science in Education, emphasis in business education, in 2010, and a Master of Science in Education, emphasis in higher education leadership, in 2012.

During Marshall’s first year of teaching, all of the students in his classroom passed the Georgia Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) in seventh- and eighth-grade social studies, a trend that continues today in his content areas. He played a lead role in his school becoming one of the first in South Georgia to implement a 1:1 iPad initiative, which put the innovative technology into the hands of every VECA student.

“I believe that all students have the ability to learn when stakeholders hold the pupils to high expectations and inspect the progress of such intellectual and moral principles,” he said. “An educator has a very integral part in molding his pupils to be life-long learners and productive stewards of the world. … I understand my purpose and know that I am a catalyst for proper growth and development of the students I serve. … My goal is to engage, motivate, inspire, and transform ….”

Valdosta State University’s 2013-2019 Strategic Plan represents a renewal of energy and commitment to the foundational principles for comprehensive institutions.

Implementation of the plan’s five goals, along with their accompanying objectives and strategies, supports VSU’s institutional mission and the University System of Georgia’s mission for comprehensive universities.

The story above demonstrates VSU's commitment to meeting the following goals:

Goal 1: Recruit, retain, and graduate a quality, diverse student population and prepare students for roles as leaders in a global society.

Goal 3: Promote student, employee, alumni, retiree, and community engagement in our mission.

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