SC Teacher of the Year says students are driving force behind aw -, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

SC Teacher of the Year says students are driving force behind award

SOCASTEE, SC (WMBF) - Standing by her side while she gave her acceptance speech at Wednesday night's Teacher of the Year Gala in Columbia was one of Jennifer Ainsworth's students with special needs.

"It was so amazing to take Savannah up to the stage with me so that we could do this together, and they could see the students in my classroom that help make this program shine," says Ainsworth.

Ainsworth leads the special needs program at Socastee High School where she teaches 13 students, ages 14 to 21, with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities. She says they are a family.

"It's their unconditional love and their attitudes, and they never give up," she says.

The selection committee chose Ainsworth over nearly one hundred other teachers in the state. It was an ongoing process filled with interviews, evaluations and essays. As the winner, next school year, Ainsworth will act as an education ambassador, traveling around the state to meet with lawmakers and other educators to bring about awareness to issues in special needs education.

"God has put me on a path and I believe this is going to open doors for these students," she said.

The mother of two from Marlboro county has only been teaching for eight years. Inspired by her mother who was a teacher and recently passed away--she says winning 'Teacher of the Year' is bittersweet.

"She was not here with me for this, but I do know that her influence was an inspiration for me to teach," she says.

Ainsworth will head back to Socastee from Columbia in a brand new BMW she gets to lease for a year, $25,000, a 5-day cruise, and the reassurance that she's on the right path

The gala is presented by the State Department of Education and SC Future Minds. It's one of largest gatherings of state leaders in business, government, and education.

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