Newcomer Kristin Millard has moved to the head of her class.

Entering her second year in education, the South Davis Junior High teacher has been named Utah's 1998 Sallie Mae First Class Teacher in recognition of first-year teaching excellence. The award includes $1,500 and a free trip to Washington, D.C., this month for a symposium and a tribute."I owe a lot of it to the school . . . and the ability the school administrators and faculty have given me to express myself as a teacher," said Millard, who set aside her English curriculum of last year to teach history. "I think (teaching) is probably the most gratifying profession you can have."

Millard, of all people, would know the virtues of teaching. After all, education surges through branches of her family tree.

Her mother taught elementary school. Her grandfather was a principal. And two aunts are teachers, too - one of whom, Linda Sorensen, was a South Davis colleague last year.

"(Millard's) vision, like the carriers of the Olympic torch, is to pass on the torch's glow to each and every student by giving encouragement and acknowledgment," principal Karyn Bertelsen said in a prepared statement.

Bertelsen helped nominate Millard for the honor shared by one teacher in every state. An American Association of School Administrators panel selected winners from 1,400 nominations nationwide.

"Kristin has the wisdom and compassion that ignites confidence, hope and faith in children's minds and hearts," she said.

Millard, a 24-year-old Weber State University graduate, has a knack for making lessons stick with her junior high students, an age group filled with challenges of young adolescence.

Rather than just read about the Holocaust, Millard's honor students e-mailed survivors, whose stories were posted on the Internet, and liberators of the Nazi concentration camps.

"I think they really understood what the Holocaust was after that. There were real people involved and not just names in books," Millard said. "I don't think there's any better feeling than when you see a student make meaning out of what you're teaching them and make it a part of their life."

Millard's other classes also buzzed with activity.

Ninth-graders participated in mock trials. Eighth-graders made time capsules, to be cracked when they graduate from high school. Future authors posted their work on the Internet. Kids dramatized children's stories as radio shows and learned to write resumes.

"I think it's so important they understand how school life impacts them in the future. If I can't make them understand that, learning doesn't have much of a point. They don't remember it."