Meet Aja Johnson, whose career as a community health educator began in high school.
When Aja was a student at Fairfax High, she joined the Cedars-Sinai Youth Employment and Development (YED) program, where students get hands-on experience and mentoring in the healthcare field.
Her experience in the YED program inspired Aja to pursue a career teaching others about healthy living. As part of Cedars-Sinai’s Healthy Habits program, she teaches children in underserved Los Angeles communities about better food options.
One teacher incorporated our recipes into her math lessons, and the class made healthy snacks while learning fractions.
We sat down with Aja to learn more about her journey and how she teaches kids about diet and nutrition.
How did the YED program influence your career path?
Aja Johnson: YED helped me find what I wanted to do as much as it helped me learn where I didn’t fit. I thought I was interested in a career in pharmacy. After shadowing pharmacists at the medical center, I realized I wanted a job with more patient contact and human interaction.
What’s the hardest thing about teaching kids to be healthy?
AJ: Healthy Habits is a fast-paced program and some concepts are new to young children, so it can be a challenge to keep their attention. I interact with 80-150 third and fourth graders each day. You never know what’s going to come up, so I try to be nimble and adaptable.
What changes do you see kids make after being part of Healthy Habits?
AJ: Sometimes a kid will be excited to show me she brought grapes for a snack that day. Another will tell me she asked her mom to buy strawberries instead of chips! It’s also great to see teachers making changes. One teacher incorporated our recipes into her math lessons, and the class made healthy snacks while learning fractions. Tying things together like that really reinforces our work.
What’s your favorite part of this job?
AJ: Bringing joy and building community while empowering students and teachers to be proactive about their health. I also like creating a culture that makes healthy habits part of daily life.
Aja is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Public Health at USC and recently transitioned to a new role in the Cedars-Sinai Nursing Education department.
Healthy Habits and YED are just some of the ways Cedars-Sinai is working toward a healthier Los Angeles. Learn more about our community benefit programs.