RICHMOND, Va. -- He is one of the best teachers in Central Virginia, but odds are you would not want your child in his classroom.
Rodney Robinson teaches social studies at Virgie Binford Educational Center in Richmond.
It is the school inside the Richmond Juvenile Detention center.
"These kids are the most vulnerable kids we have in society," Robinson said "They need and deserve a good teacher just as much as anyone else. I figured if I come down here, I can make a true difference."
And he has.
In a surprise assembly at the school Wednesday morning, the state named Robinson the Region I Teacher of the Year for Virginia. He now joins seven other Virginia teachers who will compete for the statewide honor. From there, it's a national contest.
He credited his parents with putting him on the path to success.
"My mother always pushed me, she always told me to do my best. My father as well, they always stressed education," Robinson said. "They told me education was a gateway to new opportunities in life."
It is a lesson he teaches his incarcerated students, both inside the classroom and through motivational messages he uses to decorate the hallways.
"Even though their situation is bad, it lets them know your mind can still wonder," Robinson said. "And when you get out, your mind can take you places and your body can follow."
Robinson previously taught at Armstrong High, Wythe High, and Brown Middle School during his 19-year career in education.
He said his main goal as a social studies teacher was to make his students "civically responsible."
"Current events dictate that having those social studies skills are some of the most important things we can have in our to further our democracy," he said.
Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras and Virginia First Lady Pamela Northam were there as Robinson received his honor.
"A teacher like Mr. Robinson can change the course of a child's life. And he does it every day here at Binford," Mrs. Northam said. "He sees teaching as a calling and he loves his students as much as his own children."
"They're a little more challenging," Robinson conceded about his students, "but I welcome the challenge."
"I work hard. I've been doing this for 19 years. It's my passion," he continued. "To be honored for your passion is everything you want in life."