Johnson Praised as Pine Mountain’s Hidden Gem
Mark Johnson watched as a student walked into school, his eyes downcast. The Pine Mountain Middle School (PMMS) custodian peeked into the summer learning classroom and saw the student walk to his desk and put his head down. The teacher tried to talk to him, but he never responded, never lifted his head. Johnson’s traditional morning greeting to the class brought smiles and reactions from all but that one student.
Some would have walked on, but not Johnson. His love for PMMS students wouldn’t let him ignore one who obviously needed to talk to someone. Johnson asked the student his name and if he was having a problem.
“I have a lot of issues at home,” the student responded.
The custodian reassured the student that he was there to listen and provide support, if needed.
“I want you to know that I’m here for you. I’m here for you,” Johnson told him. “If you ever want to talk, want to talk about anything, I’m here for you.”
With that, the student lifted his head and had a question for the beloved custodian — what was his name?
“Mr. Mark, nobody ever talked to me like that, nobody ever,” the student said.
Every day after that, the student would look for Johnson as soon as he came in the door.
“He was telling me about his day,” Johnson said. “He said, ‘It started off a little rough, but I knew that I was going to come here. I was going to see you, and things were going to get better.’”
Johnson reminded him he was at school to learn and that the teacher was there to help him and encouraged him to show he cared about learning and to keep his head up.
“He started coming in school, taking the hood off and keeping his head up,” Johnson said.
That type of student interaction is what gave Johnson the reputation as Pine Mountain’s hidden gem.
“He’s very nice,” eighth-grader Jaydin said. “He asks how we’re doing, how we’re feeling, and it makes us feel welcome at school.”
Jaydin’s classmates echo that praise.
“Sometimes in the morning, or just throughout the day, you’ll run into him in the hall, and he’ll give you a fist bump,” eighth-grader Jordan said. “It’s really nice. It’s nice to know that someone is paying attention to you and appreciates that you’re there.”
Johnson tries to build up the middle school students, just like his father did for him.
“I’ve had children that have come to me, and they’ve voiced their concern about situations that they have at home,” the father of four said. “Some of them don’t communicate with their parents. They’ll come to me. Some kids have even come to me and said, ‘Wow, I wish you were my father. I wish my dad taught me the way you did.’”
The Marietta resident wants students to know he is more than just someone who collects the trash and cleans the school. And the kids know. They know he cares, and they know Pine Mountain would not be the same without him.
“Sometimes, like when we are walking into the lunchroom or walking into school, he’ll give every one of us a fist bump, and that’s really just fun and lightens the mood, especially in the morning when you’re tired,” eighth-grader Grace said.
Even students who leave Pine Mountain can’t forget their favorite custodian. Kennesaw Mountain High freshman Phoebe said Johnson is someone they could talk to if they ever needed anything.
“He was the most loved staff member, and he was the hidden gem of the school,” she said. “He was the behind-the-scenes person for everything. He always talked to students. He was never mean to anybody. He always welcomed everybody with open arms. He was just really a nice guy.”
When Johnson applied for the job at Pine Mountain four years ago, he told the principal that the school was not going to find anyone better, and he certainly has lived up to his promise.
“I felt that I could make a difference at this school,” Johnson said. “Coming up, my father only had a third-grade education. He never knew his father, but he used to always tell me and my brothers, he said, ‘One thing I want you to always do is take care of your family and be the best, try to be the best you can. Wherever you work, whatever job you have, you do the best and try to be the best that you can.’ So I’ve always carried that. So wherever I go, whatever I do, I try to do the best I could do.”