How She Shines
The first thing I notice when I arrive at Janice Robinson's classroom is its comfortable feeling, the walls are soft green with warm brown accents, with words like "dream" scattered across them. When we sit down together after her students have left for the day, her polished and professional demeanor is immediately evident. Yet, she's almost hesitant to talk about herself, labeling herself a "behind-the-scenes person." However, she is quick to talk about her students. "I could write a story about each child," she explains, adding, "When you see that light go on, when they get it, that's what makes me smile."
Janice grew up in Coolidge, Georgia, along with her two younger brothers. It was, in particular, through her experiences with one of her brothers, and his struggle with physical disabilities, that she developed a heart for those with disabilities. As an adult, she left her hometown to pursue a degree in education, ultimately graduating from Albany State College. Later, she also earned a master's degree in special education from Cambridge College.
After graduation, she worked in a mental health facility before becoming a special education teacher. She's lived and taught in the Savannah/Beaufort area for more than 22 years, teaching various grade levels at several different schools. In 2001, she joined the Beaufort County School District, and four years ago, she began teaching at Hilton Head High School. Here, she teaches functional life skills and community-based skills to small groups of intellectually-challenged students.
Believing that learning should be fun, Janice tries to accomplish this every day with her students in the lessons and activities she plans. Furthermore, her educational philosophy is simple: she believes that "no one can do everything, but everyone can do something." In fact, she credits a former student with "teaching me to think outside the box. There wasn't anything he wouldn't try to do. Now, I like trying to light that fire in all my students." In her classroom, she starts with teaching a motto. This year's motto, for instance, is, "Wish it, dream it, do it." Her students learn the motto, saying it daily, and they work on mastering the answers to basic questions about the world, answers that will help them function successfully in the world. She is inspired by how hard many of her students work, marveling at the fact that they come into her classroom each day "with an attitude of 'I'll try.'" At least three days a week, she takes students off-campus to practice their skills through businesses like Walgreens, Hampton Inn, and Hudson's, where they perform tasks like clocking in, putting away stock, assisting with food preparations, and greeting and seating customers. Janice and her students also do numerous fundraisers throughout the year, like Rock the Nest, Z-Club, and Belk Charity Days, all to raise money for various classroom activities.
Janice explains that Hilton Head High School has "one of the best special education programs because our students are part of the school here." She speaks highly of the relationships that the students and staff have with the students in her room. She also speaks highly of her support staff, Audrey Jenkins and Linda Stenson, who work alongside her in the classroom.
A self-described "picture queen," Janice likes to capture everything, including everything her students do. She also enjoys cooking and reading, and Friday nights will often find her at Barnes & Noble, with coffee and an oatmeal raisin cookie, perusing books. She enjoys traveling, and mentions Forsyth Park and Penn Center as two of her favorite nearby places to visit. She also loves Niagara Falls, and hopes to someday travel to Europe.
Clearly, Janice has a gift for working with students, so it is no surprise that she plans to continue in education until her retirement. Indeed, toward the end of our conversation, Janice shares a story about a time when her mother said to her, "I always thought you had a flair for being different; I thought you'd be on the cover of a magazine." She smiles recalling it, and shakes her head, "I didn't need to be on the cover of a magazine. I make a difference in the lives of my students. Making them shine is how I shine."
About her hometown, Coolidge, Georgia: Janice goes home when she needs a break. She explains, "This is the place where I grew up to feel safe and secure, where life was simple, yet full of wonderful childhood memories." She also loves the nearby town of Thomasville, the City of Roses, "where old plantations of long ago still exist. The city is known for having the largest live oak trees where branches hang gracefully over four streets."
Family: Janice is married to Anthony Robinson, "the other part that makes me complete." Their six children are Carlethia Hughes, Anthony Robinson, Teresita Robinson, Josef Robinson, Prima Robinson, and Michaela Robinson.
Volunteer work: Janice invests much of her time in volunteer work, assisting with Special Olympics and doing Christian field ministry.
Career motto: "Life is not about doubts or excuses, but about the possibilities."