BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — President Barack Obama welcomed National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes, a graduate of the University of Bridgeport's School of Education, to the White House on Tuesday afternoon as part of the celebration of Teacher Appreciation Day.
And as part of the event, Hayes in turn introduced the president to the crowd and to the other finalists for the National Teacher of Year award. (Watch the video above.)
She was named the 2016 National Teacher of the Year by the Council of Chief State School Officers last week and Connecticut Teacher of the Year in October.
Her career goes back 13 years with the most recent 11 years in Waterbury. She takes her role as a social studies teacher beyond the walls of her classroom and into the community, where she encourages her students to be active in projects that improve the world.
Hayes, a mother of four, grew up and attended school in Waterbury, where she now teaches history at John F. Kennedy High School. She earned her Sixth-Year Degree from the University of Bridgeport in 2014.
Before Tuesday's ceremony, Hayes sent this message to the White House email list:
"As a country, we need to ensure that the quality of a child’s education is not dependent on the neighborhood where he or she grew up.
"For me, that’s personal. I grew up in the projects, surrounded by poverty, drugs and violence. At the age of 17, I became a mom.
"Growing up, education was never seen as a pathway to success in my family, yet my teachers believed in me. Some of them even let me borrow books to read at home.
"They challenged me to imagine myself in a different set of circumstances, no matter how difficult. They encouraged me to do more, be more, expect more, and become the first in my family to go to college. They inspired me to become a teacher so I could make the same kind of impact in my own students’ lives -- a teacher whose influence extends beyond the classroom.
"Their support took me far. Today, I’m at the White House to be honored by President Obama as the 2016 National Teacher of the Year.
"There are few presidents in our country’s history who have believed as passionately in the power of a quality education for all of our young people as President Obama does. ...
"... I’m grateful for the President’s leadership on education throughout his time in office. Through all of the hardships and struggle, when I stand in front of my classroom, I see nothing but promise in the faces of the students looking back at me.
"That’s a powerful thing -- and something the President knows is worth fighting for."