When Randi House was in first grade, she hated school. It made her sick. Literally. She got stomachaches everyday from the stress that school brought her as a little first grade girl. If you asked her as a child "What do you want to be when you grow up?" "Teacher" would not have even been on the list. But something…or rather…someone…happened to her in the second grade. She had an amazing teacher. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Because she had an amazing teacher, she became an amazing teacher. So amazing that she was chosen by Theodore Jones Elementary School as their Teacher of the Year. Then Conway Schools chose her as our District Teacher of the Year. She qualified as a Regional Finalist, and then a State Semi-Finalist. And then this week, Randi House was named the State of Arkansas’ Teacher of the Year for 2018! So exciting!

There are so many things I could tell you about Randi House, the kindergarten teacher. She represents so well everything a child should have in their very first teacher and everything a parent should have in their first school experience. Mrs. House doesn’t simply teach reading, writing and math—she teaches kids. She knows the importance of meeting students’ basic needs first, before any teaching or learning can occur. Mrs. House builds relationships with her kids in so many ways- letting them know they are loved and valued from day one in her classroom. She maximizes each minute they are at school, whether it is making sure they have food to eat, or clothes to wear, or trying to determine the real reason behind any misbehavior. Teaching in a high poverty school has given her opportunities to be flexible and innovative in her quest to reach all learners. And she definitely reaches them. Once their needs are met and they feel ready to learn, students make monumental gains for Mrs. House. It’s amazing what happens when kids see that you love and believe in them.

Because many students do not get the chance to travel, each year Mrs. House takes her kids on "virtual field trips" around the world to visit the 7 continents. Upon "arrival," they cook regional foods, listen to native music, and even invite guest speakers to talk about the different countries. She and her fellow Kindergarten teachers also host a weekly "Cooking Show," where they prepare healthy dishes for the kids to try. Many of these students have never seen or eaten real vegetables before. They work in the school garden and prepare a cookbook of their recipes from the entire year.

Each May, Mrs. House hosts a "graduation lunch" for her former kindergarteners who are now 4th graders at Theodore Jones, before they head off to Middle School. The fancy occasion takes place in her classroom, complete with place mats, party favors, and a special dessert (of course!) Each child takes home a Kindergarten photo of themselves, along with a handwritten letter from Mrs. House. What a wonderful memory for these kids!

Besides as a teacher, I also wish you could know Randi House the person. Randi is the kind of friend that you love to be around because she is fun to talk to and she makes you laugh. She is thoughtful and kind and puts others before herself. She is HUMBLE. She’s loyal. She loves her "people"—her family, her kindergarten team of teachers, her friends, her students. She’s the kind of mom who "does it all" and makes it look easy. She makes the cool cake and hosts the awesome birthday parties (straight out of Pinterest) for her kids. She takes amazing pictures and sends the ones of your kids to you. She wears Converse Tennis Shoes, listens to rap music, and likes to watch "The Office." She’s just cool. Kids love her because she makes them feel valued and special. Parents love her because she’s down to earth. She relates to them and makes them feel important. Teachers and staff love her because she’s a team player and encourager. She lifts others up and puts them before herself every time. And now the entire State of Arkansas will get the chance to hear her story and love her like we do.

Randi House has changed the lives of hundreds of students over the last thirteen years of her teaching career. She has inspired countless fellow teachers along the way as well. This next year will see her influence magnified as she travels around the state of Arkansas representing all teachers as our state Teacher of the Year. Conway Schools could not be more proud.

Heather Kendrick is the Communication Specialist for Conway Public Schools. Contact her at kendrickh@conwayschools.net or by phone at (501) 450-4800. For more information, log onto conwayschools.org.