First Bell: For Her Youngest, Learning the ABCs Wasn't Easy as A-B-C

Mar 31, 2014
Originally published on April 7, 2014 7:13 am

The First Bell series is a growing collection of stories from students, parents, and educators about pivotal experiences in education. To tell your story, email with "My First Bell" in the subject line or tweet with the hashtag #MyFirstBell.


LaToya Johnson is the mother of three boys.

Early on, in daycare and preschool, Johnson's older two learned their ABCs and how to write.

"So by the time I got to my youngest and he got to pre-k and he wasn’t able to recognize his alphabet, I was like, ok, something was wrong." 

That turned out to be the start of a journey that ultimately led Johnson to enroll her son Micah in a private school — Hosanna Christian Academy in Baton Rouge — through the state voucher program.


Pre-k, all three kids were at an EBR public school. They kept saying, it’s just pre-k, he’ll be ok when he gets to kindergarten.

We transferred to another EBR public school and it was the same thing, they were more worried about holding him back than getting to the root of the problem. And he knew enough off of memory to where they couldn’t hold him back — he was able to pass the test off of memory. So that’s how he got through kindergarten: because he memorized.

And then we get to first grade. And I’ll never forget, the first week of first grade the teacher looked at me in my face and told me, “I talked to the kindergarten teacher, and he’s probably not gonna pass.”

So I sprung into action. I met with the vice principal, the guidance counselors, I had meetings with pupil appraisal. I mean, I sat here with a table full of five or six ladies telling them something is wrong with him.

Pupil appraisal never tested him. The school never did what they were supposed to do. He just got held back.

So I went, the week before his second round in first grade and sat and talked with the vice principal again and told her, “Ok, we’re in first grade again, we need to do something.” And she told me, “Well, unfortunately, the children usually have to fail before any help can be done.”

So then we get to the end of first grade, the second time, and he still — he can’t read.

Anything that was a small sight word that he memorized, he could say them. But, anything bigger that he would have to sound out, he didn’t have the capabilities. He didn’t know how. He was going to go to second grade and be behind again.  

But, in the middle of first grade, since that the school that he was at had a low rating — I think they had a C or a D — I was able to apply for the scholarship. Lunchtime the very last day I applied. And I was like, ok, if you got picked son, well, then this is must be where you’re supposed to be. And now he’s at Hosanna.

And I really felt, when we did have orientation, and they kept talking about the “interventionists” and they introduced the “interventionists”. And I had no clue what an interventionist was.

I remember one day I came up there and I seen a lady sitting in the hallway in a little tiny chair, one child sitting next to her, and they were reading. And I said, ok, well, I guess that’s what an interventionist is.

An interventionist will take the time for that individual child to see what their problem is. So if it’s math, they’re gonna take you back to the beginning when you first started learning 1+1 and 1+2 to identify what the problem is, and then get you up to your grade level. And that’s what they did with him.

It was his phonics.

You can’t read if you don’t have good phonics. You can’t sound out words if you don’t have good phonics.

So the interventionists and the school and the teachers, they figured out, ok, with Micah, it’s phonics. Let’s work on his phonics. That’s what helped him.

And he would come home, “I don’t need your help, I can read myself.” Well, excuse us, Mister.

I think that kid’ll be ok.


LaToya Johnson recently, found out by reading the paper, that Hosanna Christian Academy will be closing its high school.

More than two-thirds of Hosanna’s roughly 700 students receive state vouchers -- the bulk of those, like Johnson’s son Micah, in lower grades.

Administrator Josh Lasage told

The Advocate that what Hosanna could offer high school students wasn’t as good.

Johnson says her son Micah, who’s now in third grade, is still doing well.



The First Bell series is a growing collection of stories from students, parents, and educators about pivotal experiences in education. To tell your story, email with "My First Bell" in the subject line or tweet with the hashtag #MyFirstBell.


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