National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes, a Southern Connecticut State University alumna and former New Haven teacher, joined New Haven community members Friday to discuss her love of teaching and the integral impact teachers have on their students.

Hayes was named National Teacher of the Year in April by the Council of Chief State School Officers, a nonprofit agency that leads departments of public elementary and secondary schools in each state. Hayes was named Connecticut Teacher of the Year in 2016 and was selected from the pool of 55 State Teachers of the Year for the national title. President Barack Obama presented her the award on May 3 at a ceremony at the White House.

“When I’m not teaching, I walk around the school, I attend afterschool events,” said Hayes, who now teaches at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury. “You start to notice the kids who seem like they’re starting to drift, and I’ll invite them in for an after-school project or meeting or go to one of their events, something that’s important to them, just to show them that there are adults here in this building who really care about their well-being.”

Hayes taught social studies, civics and U.S. history at James Hillhouse High School between 2004 and 2006, while simultaneously completing her bachelor’s degree at SCSU. Carlos Torre, a SCSU professor of education who sits on New Haven’s Board of Education, lauded Hayes at last week’s board meeting.

Taylor Conant, a Waterbury resident and Kennedy alumna, said Hayes was “fantastic” in the classroom and beyond.

“She always pushed you to do your best, and she was super encouraging,” Conant said.

Hayes said her own struggles in school and the encouragement she received from teachers compelling her to continue with her education influenced her teaching methods. Her work in social justice and community outreach contributed to her application for Teacher of the Year. Between 2003 and 2007, Hayes served on the Connecticut Urban Consortium, for which she collaborated with teachers in three of the state’s urban centers — New Haven, New London and Waterbury — to promote professional development in schools.

Gov. Dannel Malloy called Hayes an “exceptional educator” in an April statement. He said Hayes provides students with a high level of academic rigor and commitment to service.

“She is truly preparing the next generation of global citizens,” Malloy said.

As National Teacher of the Year, Hayes will be responsible for representing educators nationwide, according to the NTOY Selection Committee.

Shanna Peeples, an English teacher from Texas, was National Teacher of the Year in 2015.