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Showing Compassion Goes a Long Way for Sixth Grade Teacher

Note: This is one in a series recognizing winners of the 2021-22 NHA Excellence Awardsa program that honors educators, deans, and administrative teams across our network.

At different points throughout the school year, Kristen Miller takes time to help students with whatever it is that might be weighing on them.

The sixth-grade teacher at Johnston Charter Academy has been at the school since it opened in 2018, and in that time has developed a trust with students by passionately teaching Moral Focus virtues. One instance is by having them anonymously write down something that is bothering them. The students then crumple up the bothersome sheet of paper and toss it to the front of the classroom, where they silently read what they each had jotted down.

Kristen Miller, middle, during a fundraiser color battle.

When the students are finished reading, Miller asks them what pieces surprised them, and if they had been through similar things that their classmates had disclosed.

“It’s a big bonding experience,” she said. “We all have a story and a lot of times we don’t know the full details. This helps them be kinder, be that person to listen instead of judging people. It was kind of wild, but overall I think it was really eye-opening for a lot of them.”

Miller’s care for her students helped her be honored as an Excellence in Teaching winner as part of National Heritage Academies’ (NHA) Excellence Awards for the 2021-22 school year. That warm atmosphere is prevalent at Johnston, which outperforms the local district in all subjects.

Kristen Miller was honored as an Excellence in Teaching winner for the 2021-22 school year.

“We’re close. We support each other,” she said. “It’s very much a family feel.”

Miller didn’t want to go into teaching at first, initially wanting to be a nurse, but realized she had a passion for education and enjoyed being around people in general. Teaching sixth grade allows her to be part of students’ “ah ha” moments, when the lesson clicks for them.

Johnston Charter Academy students from Kristen Miller’s sixth grade class.

Getting the material to click was challenging when students returned to in-person learning in the 2021-22 school year, but Miller said test scores improved.

“They came back and some of them were a year behind, but they still were able to perform and do really well,” she said. “I think because of that, they bonded a lot more because a lot of them had gaps and they would help each other. It was just a good group last year.”

Kristen Miller has coached cross country at Johnston Charter Academy the past five years.

Keep up the excellent work, Mrs. Miller!

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About Johnston Charter Academy
Johnston Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Clayton, North Carolina, serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes more than 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit

Visit Johnston Charter Academy's blog to read more stories like this.