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University Of Bridgeport Grad Named America’s Top Teacher

Jahana Hayes, a University of Bridgeport graduate, is the national teacher of the year. Photo Credit: University of Bridgeport
Jahana Hayes appears on the "CBS Morning News" as the announcement is made that she is the Teacher of the Year. Photo Credit: Twitter ‏@JahanaHayes

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – Jahana Hayes, a graduate of the University of Bridgeport's School of Education, has been named the 2016 National Teacher of the Year by the Council of Chief State School Officers for her ability to inspire at-risk students to break through the bounds of poverty and to seize academic and civic opportunities that have the power to transform lives.

The announcement was made Thursday morning on "CBS This Morning." 

Hayes took to Twitter to express her thanks to her school. 

"Words can't explain ... 2016 National Teacher of the Year ... Blessed ..Thanks for your well wishes #NTOY16," she said via ‏@JahanaHayes. 

Hayes was named Connecticut Teacher of the Year in October. Her career as an educator goes back 13 years with the most recent 11 years in Waterbury. Her role as a social studies teacher extends beyond the walls of her classroom and into the community where she encourages her students to be active in projects that help their neighbors and improve the world around them.

“I am honored to be the 2016 National Teacher of the Year,” Hayes said. “In the course of the next year, I hope to stoke a national conversation about education that is inclusive of everyone. I want to engage people who have not traditionally been part of the conversation to join in this important effort to prepare well-rounded students for success in life.”

Hayes, a mother of four, grew up and attended school in Waterbury, where she now teaches history at John F. Kennedy High School. More than 46 percent of the school’s students live at or below the poverty line.

Hayes was congratulated by U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty. 

“Jahana Hayes is an extraordinary educator whose dedication to helping her students reach their fullest potential makes her one of Waterbury’s greatest public servants," Esty said. "Her gifts to her students go beyond the academic. The kids who get the opportunity to have Jahana as a teacher come away with a better understanding of community service and the importance of working to improve the world around them."

The National Teacher of the Year Program began in 1952 and is the oldest, most prestigious national honors program for excellence in teaching. 

Hayes, who will be honored by President Barack Obama at the White House on May 3, will spend the next year traveling throughout the U.S. and internationally to advocate on behalf of educators and students. 

Hayes earned her Sixth-Year Degree from the University of Bridgeport in 2014. 

“She was looking for ways to get parents involved who really were not yet involved,” said UB School of Education professor Gail Perilli, who taught Hayes in her Educational Leadership Class. “She wanted equality for all students.”

In addition to teaching government and history classes at Kennedy High School, Hayes chairs the Kennedy SOAR Review Board, which provides a “school within a school” for highly gifted students who apply to participate in its advanced courses. She is a co-adviser of HOPE, a student-service club at Kennedy High that has raised thousands of dollars to support local Relay for Life cancer walks and to participate in Habitat for Humanity builds in New Orleans and Charleston.

The National Teacher of the Year is chosen from among the State Teachers of the Year by a National Selection Committee.

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