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Education Reform Advocate Ariel Johnson Visits Political Science Classes

On Friday, October 6, political science classes welcomed guest speaker Ms. Ariel Johnson, leader in education policy and current director of government affairs at the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS), an Illinois education reform nonprofit organization. Johnson, a graduate of St. Ignatius College Prep, John Carroll University and Loyola University School of Law, spoke to students about blending the values of Jesuit education with her work in Springfield to ensure better access to quality education for all Illinois students.
“Hearing Ms. Johnson’s presentation opened my eyes to what real government looks like,” says senior Stephanie L. Collins. “Her stories were honest...and her passion for providing all students with quality education was both infectious and inspiring.”

In her work for INCS, Johnson lobbies for education reform in the state’s capital. It’s an issue that hits close to home for Johnson who grew up on the southside of Chicago and, as a student at St. Ignatius in Chicago, began to recognize the disparity between her education and the education of her friends at other schools. While Johnson enjoyed the rigor of a curriculum that offered both honors and AP classes along with a robust college counseling department and cocurricular activities, her friends experienced none of these advantages. “Every student should have access to a great education,” Johnson told Loyola’s 125 political science students. “This is social justice.”

Johnson explained the connection between what she calls neighborhood vulnerability—which is determined by socioeconomics as well as race and class—and school performance. “The most vulnerable neighborhoods and communities,” she said, “have underperforming schools.” Though the issues are complex, Johnson remains determined. She reminded students that “being thoughtful about struggling communities” is the best way to get a head start.

“Ms. Johnson gave us an insight into the inner workings of state government and the process of lobbying,” explains senior Peter A. Tilmont.

“The one piece of Ms. Johnson’s presentation that stuck out the most to me was her emphasis on collaboration and compromise,” says senior Anne E. Foley. “The reputation of lobbyists that I have been exposed to gave me the impression that they are selfish and stubborn. However, Ms. Johnson proved me completely wrong. She was so confident and poised and was clearly good at finding common ground with those who have different views and beliefs from her. She expressed how politics is rooted in compromise and that no one ever gets exactly what he or she wants.”  

In her daily work, Johnson writes legislation, organizes education coalitions around pivotal issues, testifies on bills in front of the Illinois House and Senate, drafts and lobbies education legislation and advocates for families. Her goal? Change the narrative for low-income families, and make sure that children are afforded every opportunity available regardless of socioeconomic status.

“Ms. Johnson provides two essential insights for Loyola Academy political science students,” says social studies teacher Mr. Mark McGuire ’06. “First, the way she articulates how her experience in Jesuit education has inspired her to work for greater access to high quality education for the children of Illinois is an excellent example of the Ignatian values we hope to instill through our course. Second, as a senior lobbyist, she provides a remarkably valuable insight into how interest groups and lobbyists work in American politics.”

After Johnson’s presentation, students had a better understanding of the role of lobbyists and the methods they use to advance their agenda. They also saw firsthand how Jesuit educated individuals can get involved in political careers and forge a path to meaningful impact.  

Johnson serves as a mentor for LaunchU, an organization which pairs young professionals with high achieving urban scholars to help expose them to college life and career opportunities, supports Chicago Jesuit Academy college persistence work and sits on the scholarship committee for John Carroll University.
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