Franklin County third grade teacher Katrina Ham is making a colorful splash with her students, and for that feat she was named ‘Teacher of the Year’ at a banquet Monday night.

For her first nine years in the district, initially at Brown Elementary straight out of Florida State, she taught strictly first graders.

Until this year, when she was tasked to teach third grade for the first time.

“It was a blank canvas,” she said, in remarks following Superintendent Nina Marks’ opening of the envelope that had in it whether this highest honor would go to Ham, middle school science teacher Spencer Tolbert or high school English teacher Sherry Joyner.

“I thought ‘What am I going to do?’” said Ham, as she set about bringing to life, a decade into her career, the portrait of learning cast by 8 and 9-year-old children as they think in the clasp of a teacher’s firm gaze.

It was like applying paint, she said, and the art of making what others may see as mere messy spatters on canvas, and may wonder “what in the world?”

But once completed, then the artist proclaims ‘Now, look at my masterpiece” and the successful image falls in place, Ham said.

She recounted this year’s fresh experience and beamed a wide smile when her name was announced, a contrast to how Jo Alice “Jody” Buzier reacted when Marks read out that she was the School-Related Employee of the Year.”

Tears streamed in abundance as she quietly sobbed in Marks’ embrace. In a line in front stood the four other employees in consideration for the top honor, custodian Charles Justice, food service’s Louise Shiver, secretary Connie Sawyer, and bus driver Patricia Golden.

Each held a framed certificate, and a glass bowl of pennies, with a few big bills thrown in, presented by the organizing committee co-chaired by Deloris Croom and Harolyn Walker.

Once she steadied herself to speak, Buzier recalled how her oncologist suggested she might consider cutting back on work during her cancer treatments, and she was against the idea.

“I need to be around people and people help me though this,” Buzier said.

She’s worked as a para-professional for 28 years, earlier at both Brown and Carrabelle. Now her job is to handle elementary school ISS, in school suspension.

“It’s the kids that’s bad,” she said. “They’re not allowed to talk. They’re in there to do better, and they do better. They like it. It’s quiet in there.”

The stubble on Buzier’s scalp was hidden behind a colorful wool cap. “I’m going to beat it and be done with it,” she said.

Sharing her table was her husband Demetrius, son Ryan and mother Annie Carolyn Martina.

Joyner, now in her fourth year at the high school after 16 years teaching in Calhoun, Ga., divides her teaching duties at the Eastpoint campus between high school junior and senior English, and college English both here and on the Gulf Coast State College campus.

Ham said she has some of her earlier students in her class this year. “I taught some of these kids in first grade,” she said. “It’s cool to see how much they change.”

Third grade is the first year elementary students take the FCAT standardized exam, and Ham said she does not try to emphasize it.

“I try not to make it a big deal,” she said. “I know that that’s the stress. I tell them it’s just a test.”

Ham, married to Lt. Allen Ham, the county’s 911 coordinator, graduated from Carrabelle High School in 2000, a student of more than one of the former Teachers of the Year who were in the audience.

After two years at Gulf Coast State College, she earned her bachelor’s in education at FSU’s campus in Panama City, and has been teaching in the district ever since.

“It’s truly a great experience being a teacher,” she said. “I want to shine a light and make a difference and be that change.”

Ham is the mother of 6-year-old Sarah and 2-year-old Andrew, who together with her husband, she said “trained me well to have patience.”

After a tribute in music by trumpeter Melody Hatfield and flutist Samantha Marxsen, for longtime educators who intend to retire this year were recognized: Sharon Boatwright (39 years), Carol Davis (34 years), Eddie Joseph (34 years) and Linda Mitchell (31 years).

Melanie Humble read a long poem that she wrote in tribute to the eight nominees, and after a dinner prepared by the culinary arts students, Angeline Stanley sang a stirring a capella version of “Greatest Love.”

Sharon Browning, last year’s School-Related Employee of the Year, presented the five candidates, with Marks making the announcement. All told the five employees have 81 years of service to the district.

Following that, Laura King, last year’s Teacher of the Year, presented the three candidates, and Marks made the announcement. All told, the three teachers have 29 years of service to the school district.