The naming recognizes not only Johns’ generosity as a philanthropist to the clinic and the literacy program but also his years of ongoing contributions to the field of literacy itself.
Established in 1973, the clinic – staffed by working professionals, faculty, and students gaining clinical experience – serves more than 400 K-12 students per year who are seeking reading support. Johns previously served as director of the clinic, which is now located at 3100 Sycamore Road in DeKalb. The building was formerly occupied by Monsanto.
Jennifer Berne, department chair, described the clinic as a “real intersection between theory and practice” because it is a place for teaching children and training future teachers, as well as those who are seeking ongoing professional development and advanced degrees.
“The leadership of the literacy clinic sees it as both part of the College of Education and part of the community,” she said. “We are a place that brings the college and community together. I think that puts it in a very special place.”
Literacy program staff said they plan to use the gift to serve more students, provide reading support services for children who would not be able to pay for them otherwise, allow the clinic to implement new programs and to enhance our work of providing high-quality services to any child across the region.
Laurie Elish-Piper, current director of The Jerry L. Johns Literacy Clinic, said its role in preparing literacy experts in this region is critical, and that the prominent association with Johns will enhance the work done there.
“Literacy is the hub of curriculum in school and life as well,” she said. “And Jerry’s contributions to literacy education are many: Much of what we in do in the literacy clinic harkens back to Jerry’s work. He was always very pragmatic in that we need to teach kids reading skills and strategies but also teach them to love reading and to want to read. You will see evidence of that here in all of our practices in the learning center.”
Like Elish-Piper, Berne said Johns influenced her career early on.
“I knew Jerry’s work long before I knew Jerry,” Berne said. “I have been reading his work since I was in graduate school. What is so unique about his contributions is that he helped the field see that you need to look at literacy from multiple perspectives and to look at each child individually and very carefully. That’s also how he looks at people and the profession, in multiple ways and generously.”
Berne said the new name boosts the reputation of the clinic by being so closely associated with Johns’ professional and academic career.
“The fact that he endorses it and is a part of it,” Berne said. “Everybody knows Jerry in literacy and the good work he has done. By having his name attached to it, that really enhances all of our work.”
Johns said making the gift was a natural decision for him because the literacy clinic at NIU has been his home for his entire professional career.
“My entire career was spent here and I was extremely interested in what we did,” he said. “It was important and valuable work. Both my wife, Annette, and I have done various gifting throughout the DeKalb and Sycamore communities and even beyond. At this stage in my life and with the literacy clinic, I just thought it was a great opportunity to do this naming.”
Johns said the work that is done at the clinic is more important than ever, because demands on the field and on practitioners continue to grow due to increasing diversity and digital technology.
“The literacy clinic has been such an integral part of my professional life for so long and is such a part of me that I see this opportunity as just a continuation of that,” he said. “It feels good to be able to be associated with a program and also colleagues who value the richness that it contains.”