OCEAN CITY — Amy Andersen, an American Sign Language teacher at Ocean City High School, is the 2017-18 Governor’s Teacher of the Year, the state Board of Education announced Wednesday.

“It’s pretty exciting and I’m just trying to let it all sink in. It’s hard to believe,” Andersen said Wednesday afternoon after being honored by the board in Trenton.

It wasn’t hard for others to believe.

“I’m not surprised because she really does work really, really hard,” said former student Ashlyn Petro, of Marmora.

Andersen, 45, of Cape May Court House, has been teaching sign language in Ocean City since 2004, when the district started its program. Prior to that, she was a teacher of the deaf in Boston.

Thanks to Andersen’s efforts, the Ocean City program has expanded and students who take it can earn a Seal of Biliteracy on their high school transcript.

“She has developed an amazing program, one that not only is a model in the region, the state, but also nationally. I think that’s what makes her stand out,” said Joe Clark, president of the Ocean City Board of Education.

Clark said Andersen is the second state Teacher of the Year from the Ocean City School District.

Many of Andersen’s students have gone on to pursue careers in sign language, as interpreters or teachers.

Petro, 19, graduated Ocean City High School in 2016 after taking three years of American Sign Language under Andersen’s direction. Now, she is a sophomore at Gallaudet University, which is primarily for those who are deaf or hard of hearing, although Petro is able to hear.

Petro said before she took Andersen’s class, she had no understanding of the deaf culture of ASL.

“She (Andersen) hands you over to the deaf community and you find a friend and you learn from them. That kind of full-body immersion really helps you to see what you want to do in the future,” Petro said.

PLEASANTVILLE — Iris Ruiz, of Pleasantville, has a daughter in middle school and a son in high school. Although she is nervous about the responsibility that comes with Chromebooks, Ruiz said the laptops are an advantage for students and help fill in gaps where some parents cannot.

Superintendent Kathleen Taylor traveled to Trenton with Andersen for the announcement.

“It’s a phenomenal for Amy, for the high school, for the school district, for the community,” Taylor said. “Knowing Amy, seeing what she has done in the classroom and connecting students with the hearing and deaf community, she just is an outstanding teacher and she has tremendous impact on our students.”

Andersen said the greatest part of receiving the honor is the recognition it brings to the profession of teaching.

“There so many teachers who are giving their free time and dedication, and really investing in their students. I think this award really represents that and the work that teachers do,” she said.

Watching her students develop and knowing she helped them, Andersen said, is “the greatest gift.”

“When someone who is kind of shy and trying to find their way or doesn’t have that self confidence yet and through ASL starts being able to express their feelings … to see that blossoming and having an effect on kids, that’s the reward,” Andersen said.

Andersen’s students were able to watch her receive her award through an Instagram livestream her 13-year-old son set up.

“Then it was like I was able to bring them with me,” Andersen said.

As part of the award, Andersen will take a six-month paid sabbatical to serve as a liaison to the state Board of Education, meet with teachers statewide and discuss ways programs can be improved.

Andersen said she hopes to be able to use the opportunity to expand access to American Sign Language classes in districts throughout the state. She said would like to involve her students in Teacher of the Year activities where she can.

The state Teacher of the Year is selected from finalists from each of New Jersey’s 21 counties. Andersen will go on to represent New Jersey at the National Teacher of the Year competition.

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