On Friday afternoon, May 1, Nikki Prutsos had finished her school day and was relaxing inside with her teenage daughters. Suddenly, her husband asked her to come outside.
When she stepped into her front yard, she was shocked to find a parade of honking cars and a sidewalk full of friends.
Staff members, students, parents, and neighbors had come to surprise Prutsos and celebrate her selection as 2020 Seal Beach Lions Club Teacher of the Year. A fourth grade teacher at Rossmoor Elementary School for the past 10 years, Prutsos started her career at Weaver Elementary in 1996. She received her teaching credential at Cal State Long Beach and has lived in Belmont Shore since 1990.
Rossmoor Principal Amy Coltey described Prutsos as the sweetest, kindest, most loving, and compassionate teacher imaginable.
“She loves her students like her own and is incredibly dedicated to their well-being,” Coltey said. “She’s always thinking about other people, so we wanted to make sure to announce this award in a special way.”
The principal painted 25 signs and affixed them to some of the cars that came to salute Prutsos. Coltey coordinated the event with Prutsos’ husband Gary, who shared the secret with family and friends. Proudly wearing a shirt embroidered with the words “My Wife is Teacher of the Year,” Gary stationed supporters on both sides of the street and kept them quiet until the cars approached.
Twenty-nine-year-old Brad Kachigan was part of the cheering crowd. Kachigan, who was in Prutsos’ first class at Weaver Elementary, said he has remained close to her through the years.
“She was a great teacher,” Kachigan said. “I remember that she had lots of energy and really wanted each one of her students to succeed.”
Ruth Freedman-Finch taught with Prutsos during her time at Weaver. She described Prutsos as a phenomenal teacher who creates lasting relationships with her students.
“She is the teacher that all teachers aspire to be,” Freedman-Finch said. “She is creative, dedicated, a team player, a collaborator, a life-long learner, and expert at her craft… This award is long overdue!”
Nikki Prutsos said she was incredibly honored and humbled by the recognition.
“I was shocked,” she said. “I am just one of an amazing team of teachers. Everyone I work with is absolutely incredible.”
She said the parade gave her a much-needed lift in the midst of a trying time.
“It has been really frustrating to teach my kids through a screen,” Prutsos said. “I’m a hugger and I really miss that. Online time together is just not the same.”
Prutsos said that after her school closed, she packed up each student’s desk, added new literature books, and delivered materials to all of them. Fostering a love for literature is one of Prutsos’ passions. She said she is maintaining her regular curriculum, including an online presentation of the annual fourth grade musical, “Gold Dust or Bust.”
“Trying to coordinate the voices of 32 kids simultaneously singing 10 different songs through a computer is quite comical,” she laughed.
Despite the obstacles, Prutsos continues to incorporate humor and love into her lesson plans. She said she draws daily inspiration from the talented teachers around her and is truly grateful for all the support she has received.