During the school day, Retta Harvid will happily transform into a cheerleader to encourage her kindergarten students at Ridge Spring-Monetta Elementary-Middle School.

“We'll do writing lessons and journals,” said the new Teacher of the Year, who will represent Aiken County School District teachers for the next 12 months. “After that, the kids will do independent reading, and I'm their cheerleader.”

When Havird's name was announced as the winner at a banquet on Monday, “I was shocked, not sure I heard it right,” she said, admitting with a laugh she hadn't gotten much sleep after returning home. “This is a huge honor with responsibilities, and I'm not sure what all that is.”

Elizabeth Supan, the outgoing Teacher of the Year, has promised her support, and “she is now my new best friend,” Havird said.

A native of Batesburg – about five miles from her school – Havird received a degree in elementary education and later earned a master's in early childhood education. She has 28 years experience, the last 15 at Ridge Spring-Monetta.

Many people probably don't realize the 5-K kids must learn skills that were required for first-graders not that long ago.

“I see more growth in this age group than in any other,” Havird said. “They're not coming to kindergarten to play. It's nothing like I did as a child.”

She enjoys talking to the children about her own reading experiences. One day, a boy arrived – immediately telling Havird how he laid down with his chocolate milk and his book “Thomas the Cat” and read until he fell asleep.

“That's what I tell them,” Havird said warmly. “I sit on my red couch and read my book. They can pull out their own books anytime they want to, like riding in the car. I do a lot of cheerleader to promote a love of reading.”

In her new role, Havird will work with Supan and other Honor Court members who were finalists for Teacher of the Year this year and last. Again, the title brings with it new responsibilities, but leadership roles are not new for her.

Several years ago, other teachers visited her room as a learning opportunity – designed by the District as a “model classroom.” One summer, she discussed how the room is arranged to meet the needs of her children.

That classroom is where she belongs, and “it's so rewarding to me,” Havird said.

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.