The Eta Xi Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority announced the recipient of its inaugural “First Year Educator” award last week. The Tuscaloosa, Alabama-based chapter granted $1,000 to Jeniqua Johnson, a first-grade teacher at Southview Elementary School.

She was offered the grant during lunchtime at school in front of students, staff and other educators. Johnson was also given a certificate acknowledging her contribution, balloons, as well as a floral arrangement from Sue’s Flowers in Northport, Alabama.

“I was very surprised. I was really nervous because I was thinking it can’t be,” Johnson told WBRC

She plans on using the grant to help provide her students with more resources, such as headphones. Johnson believes it would make an impact on English Language Learner students and students with autism.

“The first year of teaching is a period of immense growth. First-year teachers learn not only about their students but also about themselves as educators,” Dr. Shanté Morton, the President of the Eta Xi Omega Chapter, told The Tuscaloosa Thread.

The grant was launched to support local educators in West Alabama.

“With the right support, mentorship, and a commitment to continuous improvement, first-year teachers can thrive in their classrooms, making a lasting impact on the lives of their students and contributing to the field of education in meaningful ways,” Morton added.

She also noted that first-time teachers in Alabama are 50% more likely to leave within their first three years of employment, citing numbers by the Alabama Commission on the Evaluation of Services.

“Retention of first-year teachers is vital because many leave the profession within the first year mostly due to stress,” Ronika Amerson, the school principal, said. “To help retain first-year teachers, we provide support through professional development, mentoring, and coaching cycles. Most importantly, first-year teachers benefit from wellness checks to avoid early burnout”

She noted Johnson’s exemplary work as an educator and mentioned her ability to connect with her students individually and expect the best from them. Amerson said she is “special because of her unique ability to connect with her students and parents. She is soft-spoken but firm with her students,” the principal added. “I often refer to her as a quiet storm. She is data-driven and goes far and beyond to ensure students success”