The serious business of school starts Monday.
But Thursday morning, Aiken County Public School’s teachers partied like they had just finished their last final exam of the semester.
Sporting their school colors from Trojan blue to Hornet green, more than 3,000 district employees clapped, chanted and danced in the aisles to get pumped for the beginning of the school year at One Team, the district’s annual celebration that every year combines the fire of a pep rally and the fervor of a camp meeting.
To rev up the crowd for the first day of school, South Aiken High cheerleaders flipped head over heels through the aisles of USC Aiken’s Convocation Center and Silver Bluff High’s Bulldogs barked.
Giving new meaning to horseplay, South Aiken High’s Thoroughbred and Midland Valley High’s Mustang engaged in an impromptu dance-off while Aiken Middle School’s mascot, the Gator, set the rhythm on a bass drum.
Appropriately, Aiken Middle “beat” out all other schools, winning the “Most Spirited School Award” for 2018. All elementary schools received the “Spirit Stick.”
District Superintendent Dr. Sean Alford told the teachers he and his leadership team encourage and support their success.
“Turn around and look at this room. From floor to ceiling, we are one team, and we offer a premier educational experience. We’re going to do this to the very best of our ability, and to that purpose, we have to stand united as one,” he said, drawing applause and drum beats of approval from the audience. “Aspire and strive for greatness. Pursue your passion, whatever your goals entail. You can do it, and we’re going to stand right beside you.
“We are a public school district, and we have a responsibility to provide an exceptional experience for everyone in our community. Our responsibility is to lift our students up as high as we possibly can. So today, I want to encourage you: go out there and do great things. Do great things. We’re going to stand beside you.”
To punctuate Alford’s theme, the elementary choir from the district’s acGATEWAY summer arts program sang “I’ll Stand By You,” by The Pretenders.
Emilee Meek, the district’s 2018-19 Teacher of the Year, asked each of her colleagues to ask themselves why they teach and then shared some of her reasons for becoming an educator.
“I teach for the students who come from two-parent homes. I teach for the students who come from broken homes,” said Meek, who teachers special education at Gloverville Elementary. “I teach for the students who love school, but I also teach for the students who have not yet found that love of learning. I do teach to make a difference. I teach because I know that all students are capable. I teach to provide opportunities for every child.”
After Meek spoke, Kristie Brennan of Bob Richards Automotive offered her the choice of several new cars to drive for the next two years. Brennan also presented a $1,000 check to Leon Pough, the district’s 2018-19 winner of the Giving Even More, or GEM, classified employee of the year award. Pough is the head building and grounds supervisor at Wagener-Salley High School.
Guest speaker Bill Daggett, the founder and chairman of the International Center for Leadership in Education, told the teachers to focus on the future, saying teachers need to teach today’s students tomorrow’s skills.
“The world is changing faster than we are,” he said.