4-H: Where Are They Now?
Sanford Johnson, executive director of Teach Plus Mississippi
Oktibbeha County native Sanford Johnson has a deep love for his home state that fuels his passion to make Mississippi better. As the executive director of Teach Plus Mississippi, Johnson uses his experience as a high school teacher and education policymaker to lead a policy fellowship for Mississippi teachers interested in influencing education policy decisions in the state. Because of his decade-long experience as a Mississippi 4-H’er, Johnson understands how to be an effective public speaker and leader, part of the foundation of his success with Teach Plus Mississippi.
How does 4-H influence your life now?
So many of the things I get to do on a regular basis are things that I first did as a 4-H’er. I’ve delivered speeches and presentations in my life, but my very first presentation was my Cloverleaf presentation at the district contest in Booneville. I also get to meet with a lot of elected officials, which is an opportunity I first experienced as a 4-H’er during Citizenship Washington Focus. Also, when recruiting teachers for Teach Plus or meeting with school districts, there are very few places in Mississippi where I can go and not know someone. More often than not, that familiar face is going to be a 4-H’er.
What 4-H memory stands out to you, and why?
In 1995, I went to Washington for Citizenship Washington Focus. One of our state leaders on that trip was Camille Scales Young. While that was an amazing experience in and of itself, what really stands out is the mentorship she’s provided in the years since then. Camille connected me with the opportunity to work for Sen. Thad Cochran before my senior year at Auburn University in 2002. That experience was a driving force behind my decision to return to Mississippi after college, teach in the Mississippi Delta, and enter public policy. Even to this day, Camille is still an amazing mentor!
What do you wish people knew about 4-H?
A popular phrase when I was a 4-H’er was, “4-H isn’t just cows and plows.” Granted, agriculture-based projects are an important part of the club’s past, present, and future. But there’s so much more than that! Young people can learn about civic engagement, STEM fields, and expressive arts. I recognize that there are so many things that compete for the attention of young people these days, but I wish more people knew about the amazing opportunities provided through 4-H.
How are you still making the best better?
Every day, I get to ask, “What can I do today to make Mississippi a better place?” A few years ago, my answer involved making sure that my students increased their knowledge of U.S. history, and had the skills needed to succeed in college or the workforce. Now my answer involves making sure that Teach Plus teacher leaders increase their policy knowledge and have the skills needed to advocate for policy change. I believe in the transformational power of a great education, and I’m working to make sure that all children in Mississippi receive that great education.
To learn more about Teach Plus Mississippi, where Sanford Works, visit teachplus.org.