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Out of thousands of applicants, the winner of the National Teacher Of The Year is African-American educator Jahana Hayes, a history teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, Connecticut. The award was announced on CBS This Morning on Thursday.

Hayes, 44, is the type of teacher that pushes her students to give back to the community. According to ABC News, she helps her students plan and organize different service projects, such as Habitat for Humanity builds, autism walks and food pantry donations.

“When I ask them to do critical thinking or writing assignments, they say they can’t do it. But then I talk to them about their service projects and they realize, ‘Wait, I’m already doing it. “It’s so cool. They don’t even realize they’re exercising democracy,” she said.

To Hayes, being recognized in this way has made “the nation became [her] classroom.”

“So, all those things that I talked about with my students, all of those values that are important to me, I get to share them with a country of students and teachers and communities, and hopefully that resonates with them,” the Hartford Courant noted.

She also told the Huffington Post that going “above and beyond is part of the job.”

“I didn’t pray for this. I didn’t ask for this. I couldn’t have even imagined that I would be recognized or celebrated for things that just come natural to me,” Hayes added.

This yearly competition is run by D.C.’s Council of Chief State School Officers and consists of a selection committee that selected the four finalists in January. During her tenure as Teacher of The Year, Hayes will travel across the country advocating for teachers and will attend an event on Tuesday hosted by President Barack Obama, the Council said in a statement.

“Jahana values a quality education for all students, and she finds ways to engage students outside of her classroom walls to improve her community – and strengthen the character of her kids. I look forward to the year ahead and all that parents, students and fellow educators will learn from Jahana,” they wrote.

Hayes’ story is one of resilience.

Growing up in the same town her school is in, she was got pregnant in high school and considered dropping out. She also wrote in her application that “she was susceptible to a ‘cycle of drugs, welfare and abuse that persisted in my family,'” ABC News reported.

“My experiences at school were always good experiences. I felt challenged. I felt successful. Even when I didn’t go to college immediately after high school, even when I went away, there was always something inside of me where I knew that was a good place. I could always go back,” she said.

She added, “Teachers exposed me to a different world by letting me borrow books to read at home and sharing stories about their college experiences. They challenged me to dream bigger and imagine myself in a different set of circumstances.”

This is such an amazing honor. Congrats to you Jahana, you make us proud!

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