Look out America! Teacher Jahana Hayes now has a national platform to advocate for students and teachers, as well as raise public awareness about the value of community service.
Hayes was named National Teacher of the Year yesterday. Today, at a special program at her school replete with dignitaries from across the state, J.F. Kennedy High School students exploded in celebration shouting, “We love you, Mrs. Hayes!” She replied, “I love you more!”
Hayes asked students, “Imagine, just for a second, if every kid in every school in every state felt how you feel right now. If every student had pride of ownership in his or her community.”
Senior Makyle Hawk told his fellow students that Hayes being named National Teacher of the Year signifies the start of change long overdue. “Mrs. Hayes is sacrificing a year away from the things she loves the most to provide a voice for communities who have, for so long, been underrepresented.”
“I am in awe of the fact that people have no idea what happens in this building and even less of an idea what happens in this city,” Hayes said. “They’re going to learn today about who we are and what we do.”
“Taking on this role of National Teacher of the Year, Mrs. Hayes represents herself, her family, her students, her school, and Waterbury. She carries us all on her back,” Hawk said. “In a way, she’s like the Greek Titan, Atlas, holding the weight of the world on her shoulders. But the world she bears is our world, and it’s the world of those in communities like ours, facing situations and issues that mirror our own.”
Recognizing that some students were sad that she will be away from them for a year while carrying out her responsibilities as National Teacher of the Year, Hayes reminded them, “I am your teacher now, today, tomorrow, always. Know that I’m out there with your story, working on your behalf, showing people who you are.”
Hayes’ energy is infectious, her academic expectations are rigorous, but she also gives a lesson from the school of hard knocks. “Nobody is going to give you anything, but once you get it, nobody can take it away,” she told students.
Hawk said that Hayes understands struggle because she’s endured it. She has high expectations for students but prioritizes making connections with every student she teaches. “Mrs. Hayes is inclusive. In her class you are her extended family,” Hawk said.
Student Jenilyn Djan is in Hayes’ freshman world history class. “She has made me really think deeply about history. We were studying the industrial revolution and child labor, and she helped us make a personal connection to the events. It’s amazing.”
CEA President Sheila Cohen said that Hayes, “Facilitates learning in a way that engages students by connecting on a personal level and stimulating academic growth while simultaneously producing productive members of society. She helps her students master content, while also teaching them respect, responsibility, and integrity.”
Hawk, who will be the first in his family to attend college and is deciding between the University of Connecticut and Boston University, said that Hayes taught him so much more than academics. “I remember even more the life lessons she imparted,” he said.
According to Hayes, students should learn from the example their teachers set about the importance of helping others and serving in the community. Hayes said that it is of no benefit to anyone if students achieve high grades and tremendous academic success if they have no desire or knowledge of how to help others.
“Your gifts are not your own, your gift is in your giving,” Hayes is fond of telling her students.
Hayes gives to her students and community in so many ways, forging lifelong connections.
Spanish teacher Rosanna Cinquegrana teaches next door to Hayes. “Her joy in teaching is infectious. Whenever she is in a room, you can feel the energy.”
“When kids start to drift, I pull them in and show them that I care about their well-being,” said Hayes.
Allyssa DeGiovancarlo was one of those kids—a teenager struggling as she made the transition from middle school to high school. “Mrs. Hayes is my school mom. I can talk to her about anything because she has been through a lot in her own life. That allows her to relate to the students.”
DeGiovancarlo credits Hayes with helping her to succeed. Now a high school senior, Allyssa has been accepted into the pharmacy program at the University of Connecticut. Her mother, Jessica, was at the school to help Hayes celebrate her new distinction as National Teacher of the Year. “Mrs. Hayes really cares. She never lets any student down,” said DeGiovancarlo.
“For years Mrs. Hayes has sought a way for us, her people, our cause,” said Hawk. “And I’m so proud to say she’s found that way.”
Watch excerpts from Jahana Hayes’ and MaKyle Hawk’s speeches below.