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Center named for the late Mary Jo Johnston

November 26, 2018

Mary Jo Johnston served the children of Kankakee School District 111 for about 40 years.

Johnston died Aug. 7, 2007. At the time of her death, she was the assistant superintendent for curriculum. She also had been the director of special education.

Earlier this month, the district renamed its Transition Center as the Mary Jo Johnston Independent Living and Learning Kampus. The Kampus (with the letter K designed for Kankakee) is located inside the First Presbyterian Church, 371 E. Court St., Kankakee.

“She was an amazing, passionate and considerate educator,” said Kankakee schools Superintendent Genevra Walters of Johnston. “She never gave up on anyone. She was one of the best administrators to work under.”

About 60 people, students, educators and retirees who had known Johnston attended the dedication.

The center serves students with a disability who have an individualized education program after they have completed their high school years. Students bound for college are not eligible.

The students stay in the program until age 22. Between 18 and 22, they work on a variety of living and work skills. At age 22, they move into the Department of Rehabilitation Services, likely finding work through programs such as Cornerstone or the Kankakee County Training Center.

Under the direction of teachers Jodie Giannakopoulos and Jana Sheely, the program has nine students. The Transition Center includes a Community Room at the church, where students can meet, have lunch and work on a variety of homemaking skills.

Giannakopoulos explained the students all have jobs outside the center, working at Kankakee County Animal Control, Berkot’s, KCCSI, Riverside Medical Center, the Kankakee Area YMCA, Classic Cinemas and Walgreens. The students are paid through a state grant.

Along with working, the students also visit and learn about the community. They stop in at Perry Farm, the Kankakee Library and the Merchant Street Art Gallery, among others. They learn such life skills as registering to vote and taking the River Valley Metro bus. They also volunteer, helping the Center of Hope Food Pantry.

“We don’t act like a school,” Giannakopoulos said. The goal is for the students to demonstrate independence.

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