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In 5th District, 'Students For Hayes' Get Hyped Up For Former Teacher Of The Year

Vanessa de la Torre
Connecticut Public Radio
Jahana Hayes, former National Teacher of the Year, thanks young volunteers at her campaign headquarters in Waterbury, Conn. Hayes visited with "Students For Hayes" the day after her Democratic primary win in the 5th Congressional district race.

Zack and Gillian Petrarca aren’t old enough to vote. But the teenage siblings say they are Team Hayes all the way.

“Jahana Hayes, row B!” Zack, 16, called out in front of John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, Conn.

“Row B!” added Gillian, 17.

The Petrarcas spent hours outside the Kennedy High polling precinct on Tuesday, the day of the Connecticut primary, flashing campaign signs and offering free pizza to whoever wanted it. Hayes was a star educator here — her students, she has said, inspired her run for Congress. Near the Kennedy gymnasium where voters cast ballots, there is still a wall display honoring Hayes’ 2016 National Teacher of the Year award.

Now a coalition of young people, Students for Hayes, wants to help send her to Washington to represent Connecticut’s 5th District.

“She’s just so down to earth and she cares about the people,” said Zack Petrarca, who attends Waterbury’s Crosby High School. He said he admires how Hayes overcame struggles growing up, despite people saying “she couldn’t do it. But then she is running for Congress, so she can do it.”

Credit Vanessa de la Torre / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
Teenage siblings Gillian and Zack Petrarca campaign on Primary Day for Democrat Jahana Hayes, candidate for Connecticut's 5th Congressional District seat. The Petrarcas stood outside the polling precinct at Waterbury's John F. Kennedy High School, where Hayes was National Teacher of the Year.

“Yeah, we even had someone that was like 9 years old phone-banking for her,” Gillian Petrarca said.

That 9-year-old boy called more than 400 potential voters, according to Hayes’ campaign. On Tuesday night, after winning the Democratic nomination over party-endorsed candidate Mary Glassman — a veteran of Connecticut politics — Hayes gave praise to her young helpers.

“My Students For Hayes were the fuel in this car!” Hayes said.

The next day, several members of Students For Hayes helped stack chairs at campaign headquarters in Waterbury. Hayes, appearing stunned over her big primary win, said they needed to clear out because their lease was expiring that day. Still up in the Bank Street office was the “selfie wall” where campaign supporters could take photos to post on social media.

Credit Vanessa de la Torre / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
A scene from Jahana Hayes' campaign headquarters, the day after the Democratic primary.

Well over a hundred young people helped out on her campaign, Hayes said Wednesday, although a smaller, core group assisted on a daily basis. Hayes said she got a wave of volunteers after her first campaign ad went viral on the internet, gaining more than 7 million views.

“They came in here all for very different reasons,” Hayes said. She told them, “‘If you want people to vote, you have to help me get people out to vote.’ And they took it seriously.”

In the general election, Hayes is up against Republican Manny Santos, former mayor of the city of Meriden, for Connecticut’s 5th district House seat. Santos won the GOP primary Tuesday.

Vanessa de la Torre is Chief Content Officer at Connecticut Public, overseeing all content with a mission to inform, educate and inspire diverse audiences across the state, including on radio, television and our organization’s 60-plus digital platforms.

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