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Chianti Grant-Culver sees dreams through from her second grade classroom to her college lecture hall

Author and education ally Robert John Meehan once said, “A gifted teacher is not only prepared to meet the needs of today's child but is also prepared to foresee the hopes and dreams in every child's future.
Chianti Grant-Culver flips through a scrapbook of her years teaching second grade at Portal Elementary School as she sits in her office at the Georgia Southern College of Education Credit: Whitney Lavoie

Author and education ally Robert John Meehan once said, “A gifted teacher is not only prepared to meet the needs of today's child but is also prepared to foresee the hopes and dreams in every child's future.”

Chianti Grant-Culver is a former elementary school teacher who is now an instructor of Elementary and Special Education in the Georgia Southern College of Education. She has had the very unique and special experience of not only meeting the needs of children in her second grade classroom but also seeing those same children all the way through to the fruition their hopes and dreams. 

You see, Grant-Culver has had the opportunity to teach some students twice: once in second grade and once again at Georgia Southern, when they enrolled in the College of Ed to become teachers themselves. 

“Going through my roster, I recognized a name from second grade, and she was sitting in my college class,” she said of the first time this happened. “There are not many professions where you could teach someone and then see them fulfilling their dreams. That’s been amazing.”

This has happened twice so far, and now that those college students have gone on to fulfill their dreams of having their own classrooms, the entire experience has come full circle.

A true calling

Grant-Culver herself attended Georgia Southern, and while she didn’t start out as an education major, it quickly became clear that it was her calling. With the encouragement of her maternal grandmother, Lucille, she changed majors.

“I decided to do what my heart was meant to do,” she said.

She completed her education at Georgia Southern and started teaching for Bulloch County Schools in January of 2000 at Portal Elementary.

She spent 16 years teaching in the second grade, and in her 17th year, she moved to 4th grade. Shortly after, she came to Georgia Southern to teach elementary practicum and curriculum courses, which she is now in her sixth year of.

Chianti Grant-Culver with class
Mrs. Culver with her 2009-2010 second grade class at Portal Elementary (Photo Courtesy Shalah Hendrix)

Heart and soul

Putting her heart and soul into her work has certainly been a theme throughout Grant-Culver’s career. 

“You can teach them, but they have to know that you love them,” she shared of her years in the elementary classroom. “Every child desires to have that love and happiness and the fulfilling of their dreams. I would tell my students, ‘Those stars are yours! Grab them.’”

And as for her college students, she is passionate about imparting the wisdom she gained from her experience during all those years in the classroom. While she says that pedagogy and policy are of course important to learn, they aren’t the only things future educators need to know.

Chianti Grant-Culver Teacher of the Year 2004
(Photo: Whitney Lavoie)

“Experience has a spot right there up on that bookshelf,” she said. “Sometimes experience is the best teacher.”

And because she has that experience, she’s able to share it with her college students heart-to-heart and encourage them in their student teaching and as they spread their wings.

“Every day, every moment – it’s always different,” she said of what she shares with her students about actually being in the elementary classroom. “But the highs far outnumber the lows, and your lows are your building blocks and stepping stones.”    

“Our teachable moments tend to be more fruitful when we incorporate a piece of our heart rather than a piece of our mind.” 

Robert John Meehan

Relationships extend far beyond the classroom

To this day, Grant-Culver keeps drawers and notebooks filled with mementos from her second graders in her office. Small drawings, short and sweet notes on torn slips of paper, class photos – it’s all there in her filing cabinet. Her bookshelves are also filled with photos and gifts from former students.

Even the smallest memories are kept and cherished (Photo: Whitney Lavoie)

“They are little speckles of my superstars,” she said of the keepsakes. “Their glimmer still shines.”  

Mrs. Grant-Culver drawing
A beloved portrait by former student Payton Soles (Photo: Whitney Lavoie)

She has also attended baby showers, weddings, and baby baptisms for her former second grade students who are now entering their 30s. 

“To be invited – that’s an honor I don’t take lightly,” she said.

It’s clear that she puts far more than just time into everything she does in the classroom, making true heart-to-heart connections with her students, whether they’re age 7 or 20.

Watching her flip through those folders and notebooks and light up at those little drawings and notes, recalling the children who shared a piece of their own hearts with her, I could see that it's all beyond worth it to her. 

Because the feeling of everlasting love is clearly mutual! 

Memories on the shelves are reminders to Grant-Culver about why she works as hard as she does (Photo: Whitney Lavoie)

Pouring into faculty, staff, and students

Anybody who knows Chianti knows that her contributions to our local educators do not end in her classroom at Georgia Southern. Frankly, that’s just the beginning.

She is a member of the Bulloch County Board of Education Foundation, an appointment which she values as an opportunity to support the teachers who are supporting our children. She says that if you pour into them, they’re more able to pour into your child. It's as simple as that.

She remembers the support of parents in her own classroom and how a seemingly simple gesture of a gift card, thank you note, or classroom donation often means so much more – because somebody took the time.

The Mattie Lively Soaring Eagle Award presented to Grant-Culver in 2021 for her service to the PTO, on display in her office (Photo: Whitney Lavoie)

“The reason I do so much to support teachers is that I’ve been there,” she said. “I want teachers to just be able to teach and not feel like they have to be ‘more,’ because they already are that. Your one kind word or one sentence can be a moment of exhale for a teacher who’s had a hard day.”

She has also almost single-handedly run the Mattie Lively Elementary School PTO for the last several years, building it back piece by piece after COVID hit and changed everything. She goes above and beyond what you could ever imagine for those students, one of whom is her precious son, Jonathan, as well as for the faculty and staff. (She would never brag about this, but I have seen it firsthand. She’s amazing!)

Changing the world one moment of joy at a time

This spirit of tireless giving is something Grant-Culver says she gets from both her maternal and paternal grandparents, and it’s also something she is modeling for her own son.

“It’s not that I have a lot of time,” she said. “I make the time. Planning and doing is as natural as breathing. When I’m doing something for others, it’s non-negotiable. It’s going to happen.”

And she never rests for long. Once she finishes one project, her brain starts spinning on to the next.

Chianti Grant-Culver outside the College of Education (Photo: Whitney Lavoie)

From the second grade classroom to the Georgia Southern lecture hall to the Mattie Lively PTO, Chianti Grant-Culver has put countless hours, true heart, and all of her soul into helping others fulfill their dreams. But to her, it’s about a much bigger picture; it's about answering the calling on her life – what she believes she was created to do.

“I move from one moment of joy to the next,” she said. “I’m going to keep giving and doing, because we can’t change the world today. But we will eventually.”