THE RJR 2014-2015 Teacher of the Year: 

    Royzetta L. Cokley (who teaches in the Occupational Course of Study program)


     Royzetta L. Cokley

     My name is Ms. Royzetta L. Cokley. I came to Reynolds High School after teaching for a few years at a middle school in Davie County. I felt the need for high school students was greater. Since being at Reynolds High School, I have had the privilege of meeting hundreds of students outside of my department.


    An average day for me involves teaching Math, English, Science, and/or Occupational Prep, walking through the halls and having students take my snacks, giving high five to students, surprising the staff with food or desserts, and just filling in where there is a need. I have a total of 20 students that I teach this semester, but I really teach about 50 with the many that I tutor throughout the day.


    My students all aspire to graduate and to become self-sufficient. Part of my responsibility is to further develop their confidence and expose them to all of the opportunities that exist in the world. We do not accept defeat in our class. We continue to try until we have mastered the skill.


    I am the mother of two girls: Brianna (17) and Alexis (13). My daughters are my motivation. I believe in their success and try to expose them to so much. Brianna currently aspires to become an Obstetrician and Alexis wants to become a teacher.


    While at Salem College my sister gave birth to twins, Roy and Royzetta. Royzetta died at 10 days old. Both were born weighing 1.5 lbs. I spent a lot of time watching Roy overcome major obstacles. So during one of my Jan Terms, I decided to volunteer at the Special Children’s School. This experience led me to wanting to work with students with disabilities. Although their challenges may be different then what we consider to be the average person, their gifts and talents are the same if not more. The years I have spent working in this field has taught me so much and kept me humble.


    My goals in life are all centered around SERVING!! I just want to help people all I can!!

    The 2014-2015 RJR  Alumni $1,000 Scholarship recipient is: 
    Jacob Weinberg


     Jacon Weinberg

    One of my favorite parts about Reynolds is how available the teachers were. Ever since sophomore year, I knew I could go to any of my teachers, like Mr. Bragg or Mrs. Freitag, if I had any difficulty or needed a little extra help. Teachers really are the difference between an average and an outstanding school, and I can say that every teacher that I had at Reynolds was engaging, knowledgeable, and earnestly, honestly enthusiastic about what they do. After hours, I loved Reynold’s array of different afterschool activities; there was a club or organization for virtually any interest whatsoever, and these clubs actually did things as opposed to just sitting around waiting for people to show up to meetings. I was a member of and officer in various clubs and organizations (Tri-M, Photo Club, Drama Club, SNHS, Youth and Government, Young Dems, NHS), but my afterschool activities were normally occupied by rehearsing for an upcoming choral or drama performance. Socially speaking, I did much better than I thought I would. Coming from Summit School (which I had attended for 11 years prior), I was a bit nervous transitioning to a large public school; I was certain I’d get lost in the shuffle and disappear for three years. Luckily, such was not the case. I was able to make friends very quickly and I found myself on unexpectedly sturdy footing only a few months in.

    I honestly cannot name one single favorite teacher–I really can’t. It does not do Reynolds Justice. As such, I’ll list all of my favorite teachers and how they impacted me:

            Mr. Wiley: I never knew what was coming next. Maybe it would be a story about his experience meeting Maya Angelou, maybe it would be a class conducted entirely without words, maybe it would be a Bell Biv Devoe cassette jam sesh, maybe it would be a rendition of Seasons of Love from RENT where he’d unexpectedly tell me to take it when it came to the first verse (and take it I did, thank you). Not only is he one of the only teachers who continues to put up with me, but he also did a very effective job of teaching me about Civics and Economics. Even though I had him in the tenth grade, I still used some of the concepts which I learned during his class in twelfth grade AP Government and Politics. In fact, his class was the perfect primer for my ECON 101 course this semester. He did his job, and he did it with never-ending flair.

            Mr. Allen: Mr. Allen’ English II Honors Seminar was my first ever class at Reynolds. Sufficing to say, he started my career as a demon on the right foot. His dry but witty humor (and perfect deadpan delivery) made class engaging and entertaining, and his obvious passion for his job made everyone in his class want to work harder and reach higher. Though we read some very weighty texts (like Les Miserables and Homer’s Iliad) for people who had just received their provisional licenses, he gave us artistic latitude to demonstrate our comprehension of these works though song, dance, paintings, scriptwriting, or even short films. Mr. Allen is a genuinely kind and caring teacher who Reynolds should consider itself very fortunate to have.

            Mr. Bragg: Besides Mrs. Freitag, no name struck more fear into the hearts of incoming sophomore than “Joshua Bragg”. Its mention brought to mind tough assignments, long hours of homework on Moodle, and—of course—the dreaded Gauntlet. What I was sure would be a difficult, incomprehensible, unenjoyable course turned out to be one of my favorite classes. In fact, I have Mr. Bragg to thank for preparing me to take AP Chemistry online through the North Carolina School of Science and Math. Because of his dedication (and the gauntlet), I was able to sail through the course’s first semester.

            Mrs. Akimbo: I had a bit of difficulty placing into the correct Spanish class during my sophomore year; I tried Spanish III, but I ultimately shifted to Spanish IV by the end of the first quarter. Mrs. Akimbo never had a bad day and was always enthusiastic to be teaching. Her teaching—mostly in Spanish but occasionally in English when “it was time to get real”—covered everything from inflation in Costa Rica and narcotraficantes in Argentina, punctuated by performances or presentations for the rest of the class. The material that we covered, including all 13 Spanish verb tenses, teed me up perfectly to take AP Spanish Language in the following year.

            Mrs. Cruz: I had not taken an art class since elementary school summer camp at the Sawtooth Center, so I had no idea of the state of my artistic talent. I am so thankful for Art I and Mrs. Cruz in particular for exposing me to such an incredible variety of different art mediums. Mrs. Cruz teaches an introductory level arts course which may be required as per Reynolds’ arts magnet status, so the class’ students may have differing levels of motivation. Though teaching often tried her nerves and patience, Mrs. Cruz remained highly dedicated and motivated to teach art to all of her students. She is bubbly and enthusiastic, and is never short on inspiration, especially when she installs her yearly string-inspired art instillation in the atria.

            Mrs. Moody: As an avid actor, I will try to be brief. I took Theater IV during my junior and senior years, and I considered the class my second family. I will never forget when my friend told me that I was cast as the lead in the fall play, Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, and I was absolutely incredulous that Mrs. Moody had taken such a huge chance on me. I am so thankful that Mrs. Moody trusted me enough for the lead role, as that experience allowed to prove my theatrical ability to myself. The following semester, her decision to cast me as Amos Hart in Chicago dealt the death blow to my fear of singing in public. In short, Mrs. Moody challenged me with roles outside of my comfort zone and drove me to achieve more as an actor.

            Mrs. Walters: I did not expect much more from AP English Composition than the standard progression from English II Honors, but Mrs. Walters’ teaching equipped me well to write and argue effectively and concisely. Her dry sense of humor and deadpan delivery could be mistaken for apathy, but she was always available to provide feedback on my writing and how I could improve my prose. Her focus on debating gave me very valuable experience on researching and then arguing a point, and the weeks of prep work was most likely the reason that I scored a five on the AP exam. I know for a fact that, even now, I could drop into her class completely at random and feel welcome.

            Mr. Hicks: I always knew that I appreciated music, but it was not until taking Acappella with Mr. Hicks that I discovered how strong my passion was. I initially auditioned for Acappella under the assumption that I would only need to provide vocal percussion and I was stiff as a board during my audition. I hardly sang a scale without feeling overwhelmingly nervous, he was somehow able to see how important music was to me before I was able to. Though I could never exactly tell what was in store during classes, Mr. Hicks’ musical acumen drove the 54-person ensemble to be the best that it could. Even though our moderate efforts would have sufficed, Mr. Hicks would not stop pushing the ensemble until every single note in every single song was meticulously rehearsed, polished, and ready to perform. This zany man—who could tell rambling angry anecdotes and explain the dynamic nuances of a Latin hymn using Panera Macaroni and Cheese as a metaphor—saw and earnestly believed in the potential of every single student in all of his classes. Mr. Hicks gave so much of himself to the program; his incredible, unending belief and devotion in the class is what led to our success as an ensemble. I would have never known that I could sing or how important music is to me had I not taken Acappella with Mr. Hicks.

            Mr. Benenati: As a fledgling photographer, Mr. Benenati happily let me into photo club and even printed me a press pass to get behind the scenes access to Reynolds sports games. I unfortunately never had him as a teacher, but the skills and knowledge that I gained under his tutelage were invaluable in proving my worth as a photographer in the Media Branch of the North Carolina Youth and Government, where I was ultimately appointed editor of the photography branch.

            Mr. Hanf: While I never took a newspaper or yearbook class during my time at Reynolds, I worked with Mr. Hanf as a freelance photographer for the Pine Whispers and could frequently be found in the newspaper room during lunch or free periods. Even though I was not on PW staff, Mr. Hanf always welcomed me with a brief glance up from the page that he was typesetting and a friendly smile.

            Ms. Bussolati: The fearless captain of the English Academic Team, Coach Nikel “Nickles and Dimes” Bussolati never failed to put a smile on my face (or chastise me for ringing in prematurely when I had no idea what the correct answer was).

            Mrs. Moody: I believe that it is widely-accepted common knowledge that Gloria A. Moody is the nerve center of Reynold’s Media Center. As an occasional user of Reynolds’ library, I could always count on a friendly greeting from Mrs. Moody and a lighthearted conversation about school, teachers, politics, or life in general.

    My average day at Reynolds began around 11:50 AM when my friends and I would arrive in the Reynolds parking lot after carpooling back from Career Center. If it was an A-day, we’d all walk to Mrs. Wiley’s class for AP English Literature. We did everything from making collages and writing essays to reading passages and acting out abridged versions of Hamlet. After that, off to lunch, where I’d normally drink a Carnation Breakfast Essentials (because I always forgot to pack my lunch and I was not very interested in the cafeteria food; some things never change). At 2:00, Sam and I would walk to the auditorium and spend the next 90 minutes rehearsing and refining our ever-increasing repertoire in Acapella. I never knew exactly what to expect, thanks to the man at the helm of the class, Mr. Terry Hicks. We rehearsed canticles in Latin one moment, then we’d switch to a Broadway show tune or two, and finish things off with a pop song, ostensibly arranged by Chloe Clements.

    If it was a B-day, my best friend Gray and I would drop off Sophie in the parking lot and then proceed to buy lunch somewhere off campus, more likely than not at Chick-Fil-A. (We had a free period; we weren’t playing hooky, per se.) Gray and I would go back to his house and either do homework or rehearse a scene for theater. At 2:50, we’d leave for our fourth period drama class. (During Senior Assassins in the spring, this routine would also include a patrol of his garage and car to ensure that there were no assassins waiting to soak him. Of course, the one day that Gray forgets to ask me to scout the perimeter, he gets assassinated by someone from our English class.) Once we returned to campus, we’d return to the theater and spend the next 90 minutes in Drama IV performing scenes, having heated discussions about current events, reading through one act plays, and everything in between. If it was show season, we’d drag our bags to the auditorium and prepare to spend the next three hours rehearsing.

    While I loved every moment of my tenure as a demon, some of my fondest memories of the school were spent in the Reynolds Auditorium. I have yet to find a school whose auditorium rivals ours; it’s hard to beat such a beautiful, classically-designed space with 18,96 seats, hundreds of lights, a digital sound system, a trapdoor used by Harry Houdini, and 90 years of history. I have spent countless Thanksgiving assemblies, musical performances, poet laureate presentations, and chorus concerts in the cavernous space, and I loved every single minute. (Appended to the end of this document is my primary CommonApp essay; the prompt was “Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?” I can thank the auditorium for being my muse.)

    Just as I can’t pick a favorite teacher, I honestly have trouble picking a favorite class. Honors English II taught me how to express myself through writing, Art I showed me that I am not a horrible artist, Honors Chemistry finally demystified chemistry, Honors Civics and Economics made me realize that politics, law, or the economy may very well become my career, Spanish III and IV prepared me to face Sra. Jimenez during junior and senior year, AP English Composition schooled me of the powers of logical argumentation, Photography let me study and hone one of my favorite art forms, Theater IV gave me a family, AP English Literature taught me how to deconstruct the nuance behind the written word, and Acappella made me realize that I can no longer live my life without music. All that said, the hardest class I took at Reynolds was beyond a doubt Mrs. Freitag’s Algebra II Honors class. One needed to be pretty darn attentive during class to avoid falling behind when she explained missed homework questions. The class in general moved at a blistering pace, and I repeatedly found myself in the unfortunate position of having an “ah-ha” moment for the chapter that we finished weeks ago. I had to work hard in that class, which left me with one of the very few B’s on my transcript.

    I wouldn’t change much at RJR, but I do have a few suggestions. I wish we had student government because almost every other school in the district had it except for us and it would have been a great way to get more experience with collaborating with other people. I wish we could build another building instead of the trailers, which are a bit of an eyesore on our otherwise really beautiful campus. More flowers and trees would be nice, as would less draconian restrictions on where students can go during lunch. Yes, it’s not a good idea to let students go off-campus, but don’t pen them up in the cafeteria. Academically speaking, I wish the school system let Mr. Bragg teach an AP Chemistry at Reynolds; while his class prepared me well to take AP Chem online, I think the course would have been much more enjoyable had Mr. Bragg taught it. Also, mix some more arts into the curriculum. If I was being perfectly honest, I would much rather that Reynolds dumped the neighborhood school aspect and focus primarily on being the county’s premier arts magnet high school. I say this because we have an arts building and an absolutely gorgeous auditorium which I think should be used to their fullest. Alternatively, I really wish there was more support for the arts at a magnet school. Signs and banners announced football and lacrosse games, so why not promote the arts program equally as aggressively? Our upcoming musicals, concerts, and recitals should be featured in every local newspaper and radio station weeks in advance, because I sincerely believe that Reynolds produces very high quality art, and I wish there was more recognition for that fact. If I could change anything in my high school experience, I would love nothing more than to stand on stage for a musical or choral concert and see every single seat in the audience filled as the curtain is flown out. The only other thing I’d change is the addition of a stadium, but luckily, we’re working on it.

    I am currently a freshman in the Honors College at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and my major is “exploratory” (meaning, “pretty thoroughly undecided”). That said, I am minoring in Philosophy, Public Policy, and Economics, as well as Spanish for Law. Thus far in the semester, I have joined the UNC Cycle team, volunteered as a bicycle mechanic at a local bike co-op, become involved with Hillel, joined a Jewish acappella group, and found employment as a theatrical technician for Carolina Performing Arts at UNC’s Memorial Hall. Next semester, I plan on auditioning for more Acappella groups and several student-run theater troupes. Additionally, I will participate in a SCUBA elective offered by the exercise and sports sciences department which will culminate with my certification as a recreational diver, and I intend on enrolling in an EMT basic course so I may volunteer with the South Orange Rescue Squad during my sophomore year.

    What I have not mentioned up until this point is that I was initially unenthusiastic about attending Reynolds. My ill-informed preconceived opinions of public school led me to believe that my first year at Reynolds would be a difficult trek through mountains of homework and overenrolled classes taught by unenthusiastic teachers. My plan was to attend Reynolds for a year and then transfer to the North Carolina School of Science and Math in Durham, where I would live out my remaining junior and senior years. In short, Reynolds was just a stepping stone to something more.

    The application process took months and involved essay writing, aptitude tests, a sitting for the SAT, and countless trips to visit the campus for orientations and informational events. Come January, I anxiously opened my admissions account to find that I had been accepted to Science and Math as a residential student! My family and I were beside ourselves; all of the hard work and preparation had finally paid off. However, this came as a hollow victory to me, because during the application process, the last possible thing that I that I thought could happen, happened: I had fallen in love with Reynolds. Far from the jaded faculty which I imagined, the teachers were all incredibly engaging and passionate about their work, the academics were intellectually stimulating, and the school’s vibrant art scene called my name. A week later, when it came time to accept the offer, I respectfully declined the offer of admission. As much as I valued the prospect of attending the nation’s first publically-funded science and math conservatory, I knew that I could not leave the school that I had grown to love.

    It is impossible to say what would have happened had I taken NCSSM’s offer or whether attending would have made me “better off”, but I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my decision to stay at Reynolds was the right one. Staying where I was helped me find my interest in the humanities (especially English, Civics, and History), gave me a solid group of lifelong friends, afforded me life changing experiences at the North Carolina Governor’s School and North Carolina Youth and Government, and made me realize that the arts are a more important part of my life than I thought. In short, the three years that I spent at Reynolds and the Career Center changed me for the better and made me the person who I am today.

    I believe I have accounted for virtually every experience that I enjoyed during my time as a Demon, but in case the point has not yet been driven home: I had, and to this day still have, great pride for my school. Given the remarkable faculty who brought such passion to the classroom, the strong academics which prepared me for success in high school and beyond, and the vibrant artistic offerings, I can think of nowhere else where I could have enjoyed my high school experience any more than at your (and now, my) dear alma mater, RJ Reynolds High. 

    Click here ( * ) to return to the previous page.