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ESSEX COUNTY, Va. — It’s not uncommon for teachers to give candy to their students to reward great work in the classroom. But on a Monday in early March, it was the student rewarding his teachers who he credited for molding him in the classroom years ago.

Ronnie Sidney II is an outpatient therapist at Middle Peninsula-Northern Neck Community Service Board. He said he holds a Master of Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University, in addition to a Bachelor’s in Human Services from Old Dominion University. It’s a remarkable academic history, but Sidney said the path to his success was not easy.

“I was in special education for five years and graduated high school with a 1.8 G.P.A.,” Sidney said. “I presented gifts to five of my former teachers who helped me build confidence and skill and overcome my learning disability.”

The special thank you ceremony took place at Essex High School where Sidney gave his beloved teachers a gift bag including a VCU cup and candy. The ceremony became especially emotional when it came time for Sidney to thank his favorite teacher, Mrs. Tobey.

“She was my special education teacher in 6th and 7th grade and made me feel really big at a time when I felt really small,” he said as he presented her with her gifts at the ceremony. “I did get emotional.”

As for what motivated Sidney to return to his old stomping grounds, he said he felt it was his responsibility to do it.

“I felt like it was my duty to honor these past educators and I wanted to let teachers today know that they have the potential to leave lasting impressions on the young people they teach,” he said.