By Taneika Duhaney / Fairfax County Times
October is National Women’s Small Business Month. During this time, small business owners like Josephine Johnson are making strides to effect change in the smallest residents in the county.
Johnson, a native of Nairobi, Kenya, owns Celebree School of Reston, an early childhood education facility dedicated to children ages six weeks to 12 years old. A lifelong educator, she migrated to the U.S. in 2008 and earned a master’s degree in Political Economy and a doctorate in Economics from Fordham University. In addition to these accolades, the mother of three has held roles at the World Bank and Strathmore University in Kenya, yet the position that left an indelible mark on her life was that of a tutor.
“When I was younger, I thought I [wanted to be] a doctor, but then my sister and I tutored [some] low-income kids [who were] in elementary school,” she said. “I tutored kids in the neighborhood in mathematics and science. When I saw that I could transform a child’s life for the better, I [soon realized] that education was worth pursuing.”
On her road to becoming an educator, Johnson’s professional aspirations were cemented when a well-respected college professor and mentor complimented her innate and effortless ability to convey concepts, especially on complex topics, to a range of audiences. Such reassurance helped Johnson to climb the professional education ladder. She completed her undergraduate studies in education with an emphasis in Business Studies and Economics. Johnson later became an economics and finance management professor in Kenya. While pursuing her Ph.D., she worked at the Equity Bank, the largest microfinance bank in East Africa, helping women secure micro-loans and access financing opportunities.
As Johnson’s career reached new heights, she and her husband, a U.S. Patent Office patent attorney, leveraged their professional strengths and segued into education in 2022. More specifically, youth education.
“We are thrilled to be celebrating one year of nurturing and educating the wonderful children of Reston,” said Johnson. “We believe in the power of early childhood education to shape young minds, and we’re excited to continue serving and supporting our families.”
Celebree, the apple of Johson’s eye, views the school as a place to “protect, educate, and nurture” children, similar to how she was able to nurture younger girls in Nairobi.
With Johnson’s students starting as young as six weeks old, she’s worked to foster an environment conducive to a range of learning interests. So much that “I have children who literally don’t want to leave the classroom. They don’t want to leave the lobby because they love to come to school,” said Johnson.
As the economist helps parents navigate the complex learning system, she hopes that reinforcing the basics, such as making learning fun and creating a welcoming environment, are the basic tenets of a successful school and a thriving business. Johnson stresses that deliberate steps are taken in almost every aspect of schooling, from celebrating milestones to managing behaviors.
“We do it in such a way to acknowledge the success while also ensuring that other kids who might not reach that milestone don’t feel left out,” said Johnson.
To mark the first year of business, this weekend, Johnson threw a celebration for the school, offered enrollment promotions, and aims to be an example for other business-minded women in the Reston and Fairfax communities.