MONIQUE BATSON — True heroes are found in our local school districts

Published 12:02 am Thursday, November 24, 2022

I first met DeForest Johnson on Nov. 17 when he attended a meeting for the Rotary Club of Port Arthur as the guest speaker.

Immediately he entered a group of tables arranged in a rectangular shape and began to walk as he launched into his story.

“You’re looking at a guy who didn’t graduate high school,” he said. “You’re looking at a guy who obtained his GED just to go to college. You’re looking at a guy who got hurt doing something he loved to do.”

DeForest Johnson, an educator at Bob Hope High School, has taken his personal story of overcoming adversity to create a nonprofit aimed at helping at-risk children. (Monique Batson/The News)

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And then he removed his jacket, exposing the huge scar on the inside of his right arm. While playing football inside a facility with a glass door, Johnson accidentally put his arm through it, severing his artery and two nerves.

But his story, as told in the last edition of The Port Arthur News as well as on, goes far beyond the injury that put him on life support.

It started at a young age by overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds in his family life. And ultimately it inspired him to be an educator, where he has taken his story to help shape the lives of others and each day works to ensure the students in his care have what they need.

“I’m helping a life every day of the week,” the educator at Bob Hope High School told me Monday as we sat down for an interview. “When I see the kids get out of the car with their parents, I’m watching them and looking at their demeanor — the way they’re walking in the door, the way they’re speaking or if they don’t speak. So I see them in the hall and ask, ‘Are you doing OK today?’ They say, ‘I’m good,’ and I say ‘what makes you good?’ I try to get them to elaborate because some of them have never been asked that question.

We’ve all heard the saying that it takes a special person to be a teacher. But it’s once you really begin to see their actions that you realize how true that statement is.

Port Arthur Newsmedia Marketing Representative Candace Hemelt, right, and Washington Elementary School Principal Lucrecia Harris surprise Teacher of the Month winner Myron Getwood, left. (Monique Batson/The News)

In January, The Port Arthur News partnered with Philpott Motors and began awarding a Teacher of the Month recognition to educators from Port Arthur and Mid County. The teacher is chosen by their administrators, and Philpott provides each with a $500 gift card.

Every month, I would be a part of the team to accompany the other representatives to surprise the chosen teacher and tell their story.

I’ll never forget in July when Myron Getwood said she couldn’t wait to use her gift card to buy items for her second grade classroom at Washington Elementary School in Port Arthur.

My heart smiled when I asked Nederland High School’s Allie Smith what the best moment of her teaching career had been, and she replied with, “today.”

Port Neches Elementary teacher Ashley Lofton receives a $500 gift card from Daren Granger, general manager of Philpott Motors, for being selected as Teacher of the Month. (Monique Batson/The News)

Everyone smiled with Ashley Lofton’s students at Port Neches Elementary School when they began clapping and cheering once we entered the school and surprised her with the award.

Andi Gregory’s kindergarten students at Langham Elementary School in Nederland rushed to hug her once the news was announced.

And Yolanda Avery at Woodrow Wilson Early College High School doubled over with her hands over her face as she was presented with the first monthly award in January.

“This has been an amazing week. Wait, district wide? Y’all have blown…” she said, tapering off as she shook her head and smiled.

I have been blessed through this initiative from Philpott Motors to not only meet but also get to know the educators in our area, and learn more about what they do to ensure the education and safety of our children.

It’s a job I never could have done, and every one of you that have dedicated your life to our youth are a true hero to me.

Monique Batson is Port Arthur Newsmedia editor. She can be reached at

Yolanda Avery, right, picks with students about “being in on the surprise and hiding it.” (Monique Batson/The News)