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Waterbury woman named National Teacher of the Year almost dropped out of high school

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WATERBURY – It’s been a whirlwind for Jahana Hayes. Last fall, she became the first Waterbury teacher to be named Connecticut Teacher of the Year. And Thursday, she learned she was voted the National Teacher of the Year.

“Crazy” is how the 44-year-old social studies teacher from Kennedy High School described her honor. But it’s more than deserved, according to her students.

Her ability to connect with kids comes from having grown up with some of the same struggles. She gave birth to a baby girl while she was still a student at Waterbury’s Crosby High School.

“I get it,” said Hayes. “When kids say ‘you don't know. You don't understand.’ I'm like ‘accept that I do.’”

“She help me get where I am,” noted Kennedy senior Lynadia Whiting. “I have a 3.6 GPA. I'm president of the senior class. Everything I have done and accomplished was because of her.”

And she doesn't just inspire her students. The girl Hayes gave birth to while in high school followed in her mom's footsteps and is now a teacher herself.

With the honor of being named teacher of the year comes some cool trips, including a visit to President Barack Obama next week, which is monumental for the this social studies teacher.

“The office of the president, for me, probably is like second to Jesus,” said Hayes.

As the National Teacher of the Year, Hayes will spend the next school year largely out of her classroom.

“There is a minimum of 200 speaking engagements throughout the country and the world for next year,” Hayes said.