FLINT TOWNSHIP (WJRT) (4/9/2019) - Passionate, different, encouraging -- just a few of the words her students use to describe Jessyca Mathews.
She's one of 10 Michigan teachers chosen as the Regional Teacher of the Year.
Mathews has been teaching English at her alma mater, Carman-Ainsworth High School, for 19 years.
"The one thing that always stuck with me is I never had a teacher that was the same color as I was," she said. "So, my driving force -- I understood that there was value in education when I got to college, but I really wanted to be that example and that role model for kids of color."
Her students say she's certainly been that and more to them
"She's incredible," senior Tashionna Smith said. "She can be funny. She makes sure that you're comfortable with the way that she's teaching you."
She said Mathews has a unique way of devoting time to each individual student.
"She talks to us like we're our age -- like she doesn't talk to us like we're kids," Smith said.
Mathews created an activism and research class to help empower and prepare her seniors for the real world.
"There's just so much that these kids could let themselves be pulled back down by, so my driving force is what can I do to pick them up?" she said.
To Mathews, the answer is helping them find their voice.
"That's what we do every day in this classroom," she said. "We let kids express themselves. We let them pick the topics they want to. And, our focus all the time is on how can we get love, liberty and respect for everyone, which is essential."
Over the past two decades, Mathews said she's learned just as much from them as they've learned from her.
"They've made me a better person, like without them, I'm not who I am," she said. "I owe everything to my kids."
Mathews' students, coworkers and community realized her value as an educator and nominated her for Regional Teacher of the Year. She's one of 10 winners, chosen from 400 nominations.
"To have opportunities and have people say you're doing a good job, that's a blessing," Mathews said. "I can't say anything more than thank you to everyone who's helped me to get here
Mathews will go before a panel on Monday, which will choose one of the 10 regional winners for the title of Michigan Teacher of the Year.