Rodrigus Graham, a sixth-grade math teacher at Lanier Middle School, was named the 2021 Kinder Award winner on Thursday, which included a cash prize of $25,000.
Graham received the award during a surprise ceremony in the school’s library. He was nominated by Assistant Principal Marcus Williams and originally thought he was heading a professional development session before being surprised with the award. WWE Hall of Famer and Houston native Booker T surprised Graham with a pre-recorded video announcing the Kinder Award honor.
Many guests were in attendance, including HISD Deputy Superintendent Rick Cruz and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, who added another surprise by declaring Sept. 2 “Rodrigus Graham Day.”
“I do what I do because I love what I do, said Graham. “I wake up every day thinking about how I am going to change the world, and when I say that, how will I make this kid smile who may have walked out of my class the previous day upset, or how do I motivate this student who feels like math is not something they can appreciate every day.”
Graham, a 10-year veteran of the classroom, has spent the past 4 years at Lanier. His coworkers described him as “warm and demanding.”
“He’s incredibly affirming of students when they take risks and invest in their learning,” said Williams. “He goes above and beyond to build rapport with students because he loves them and has a passion for his kids. Lanier can be a very competitive environment, but he truly creates a safe space for students.”
The Kinder Awards recognize innovative and results-oriented teaching. The award is intended to help raise public awareness of committed teachers across Houston, including those who are Teach For America alumni. Over $3.7 million in grants have been awarded to more than 250 teachers since the program was established in 2001, and this includes both private and public schools in the Houston area.
In July, another HISD teacher, Johanna Heegeman, from Robinson Elementary received the Kinder Excellence in Teaching Award.
Lee complimented Graham and HISD for continuing to employ quality teachers and described Graham as a symbol of the “yes we can” movement in HISD.
“Working at HISD–I love it because of the diversity,” Graham said. “We are an anomaly in the scope of things in terms of districts that are more homogenous in terms of race and equitability. Being at Lanier, I see all different races, all different religions, and that is something I love to embrace because each student brings with them a merit, which is something that will contribute not just to what we discuss in class, but who they will one day be.”