Allison Verhotz received affirmation Wednesday she had made the right decision to follow in her family's footsteps and become a teacher.

Verhotz was named the 2018-19 First Year Teacher of the Year during a ceremony at Aiken High. She teaches seventh-grade English language arts at Leavelle McCampbell Middle School in Graniteville.

“All of my great-aunts and uncles were teachers, so I had to keep it in the family,” said Verhotz, juggling a bouquet of roses, a cluster of balloons and an engraved plaque. “I'm very overwhelmed, but it's awesome. It feels good to be honored, and I'm happy I have such a good support team.”

Verhotz kept it in the family Wednesday, too. Her mother and father, John and Linda Verhotz, traveled from Ohio to Aiken for the ceremony. Her sister, Kayla, couldn't be there, but she attended by Skype.

When asked the best part of her first year, Verhotz didn't hesitate.

“The kids – by far. I love them,” she said. “I love seeing them grow. I always encourage my kids to go out of their way to get out of their comfort zones: stand in front of the classroom, read, do something different. You can see them growing and their personalities. I like to see them develop in my classroom so they have more confidence in the real world.”

Teaching isn't the only first for Verhotz. It's her first year living in South Carolina. She moved south from Cleveland, Ohio, after talking to Dr. Jason Holt, the principal of Paul Knox Middle School in North Augusta, and Cassie Cagle, director of Special Programs, at a recruiting event for Aiken County Public Schools.

"It was Cassie Cagle and Jason Holt 100 percent,” Verhotz, who graduated from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, said about her decision. "They told me to come, so I came. Jason said come here and you'll fall in love. And that's what I did.”

After just one year, Verhotz – who lives with her best friend, Shelby Weiss, who teaches at Paul Knox – has taken on Holt and Cagle's role as a cheerleader for Aiken County Public Schools.

“On Easter, four or five people from BG came down. We had lunch together, and we were recruiting them,” Verhotz said. “We were, like, come down, come down. Two of them accepted positions, and they're moving into our apartment next year. Everything is working out.”

The other members of the 2018-19 First Year Teacher of the Year Honor Court were Zachary Hutto, Aiken Middle School; Kaitlyn Shaw, Hammond Hill Elementary School; Brooke Meeler, Oakwood-Windsor Elementary School; and Heather Parliament, Paul Knox Middle School.

Larry Wood covers education for the Aiken Standard.