City-Wide Teacher of the Year puts College and Career Academy at Pruden on the map

Published 5:30 pm Tuesday, February 13, 2024

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A 13-year education veteran, with six of those being with Suffolk Public Schools, a Dual-Enrollment Early Childhood Education teacher at The College and Career Academy at Pruden Rhonda Culpepper was named both district-wide high school teacher of the year and city-wide teacher of the year. 

Culpepper and her husband of 15 years, Steven, collectively have seven children. Three children attended Nansemond River High School. Deric works for the CSX Railroad Company as a locomotive machinist. He also served in the Army National Guard as a Combat Military Police Sergeant. Clinton graduated with honors from American Schools based out of Indiana. He is a licensed professional body piercing artist and Herpticulturalist. Travis served in the Army for two years as a MOS:13D Field Artillery Automated Tactical Data System Specialist and is currently a full-time student at Strayer University for Cybersecurity. Amber is currently in college at Fayetteville State University, double majoring in Criminal Justice and Psychology, and just graduated from Fayetteville Technical Community College with an associate’s degree in Arts. Darion attended Nansemond River High School and is currently working in sales. Jenna graduated from Nansemond River High School, lives in Louisiana, and is a military wife. Jardin graduated from Nansemond River High School and serves in the United States Navy.

Rhonda says she enjoys watching her students’ creativity and innovations shine on projects they complete. Since 2023, she has been caring for children in the Oakland Christian Church nursery, caring for her grandchildren and parents, and being an Associate Professor at Camp Community College.

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Q: What or who inspired you to become an educator? 

A: There were two instances that inspired me to become an educator, first was when I was in first grade, there was a little boy in my class who really struggled with his school work. There were many days when he was not allowed to go outside and play because he had to stay in and do his work. I wanted to play with him because he was always so nice to me. I started helping him with his work so he could come outside and play during recess. I knew at that moment that I wanted to be a teacher. The other incident that made me want to be a teacher was my dad. He told me about the struggles he had in school. He later received his GED the year I started school. I watched him read and struggle with learning the information. I knew then, there had to be a way to help everyone who struggles to learn. The problem I have learned is not their struggles, it is the teachers’ lack of providing the diverse and proper learning techniques to meet their students’ needs. I want to figure that out for everyone.

Q: If you weren’t a teacher, what career field would you be in?

A: If I weren’t a teacher, I would go back to being a licensed practical nurse. I loved working in the nursing home and helping the residents maintain the highest quality of life possible.

Q: What hidden talent do you have that might surprise your students and our readers?

A: My hidden talent is probably that I enjoy canning and preserving foods.

Q: If your teaching style had a theme song, what would it be?

A: If my teaching style had a theme song, it would be The Climb by Miley Cyrus.

Q: As your students transition to the next grade or graduate, what is one key takeaway you hope they carry forward from their time in your class?

A: As my students transition to the next phase in their life, the key takeaway I hope they carry forward from their time in my class is, Never give up, “You are braver than you believe, Stronger than you seem, Smarter than you think, and Loved more than you know.” Christopher Robin

Q: What did being named your school’s Teacher of the Year mean to you?

A: Being named Teacher of the Year is such a huge honor. I still can’t believe it. But it means that finally, The College and Career Academy at Pruden and all of the amazing teachers here, are on the map. This is an opportunity to advance awareness of all Career and Technical Education programs.