Ocean City High School ASL Teacher Amy T. Andersen with two former students Michael Beebe and Valerie Galderisi at a pep rally in honor of the state Teacher of the Year, who is up for 2018 National Teacher of the Year.

By Maddy Vitale

Even after becoming the state’s top teacher and candidate for the 2018 National Teacher of the Year, Amy T. Andersen still felt in awe when people packed the gym Wednesday at Ocean City High School for a pep rally in the American Sign Language teacher’s honor.

“This is overwhelming to see all of the students and the administration pulling together and supporting me. It is a testament to the school district, and why I have enjoyed teaching here for 14 years,” Andersen said, prior to the start of the program.

Former student Michael Beebe, 18, an ASL interpreter major at Keuka College in New York, said he wouldn’t miss his teacher being honored.

Initially, Beebe wanted to go into engineering and only took Andersen’s class as a language requirement.

“You know how they say, “All it takes is that one teacher.’ She was that teacher for me,” Beebe said. “I fell in love with sign language and decided to go to college for it.”

Spectators packed the gym for Amy T. Andersen’s pep rally.

Valerie Galderisi, 19, in her third year at McDaniel College in Maryland for ASL, hugged Andersen and called her former teacher and mentor amazing.

“By having her as a teacher, she has taught me so much, and brought me into a community that I love,” Galderisi said. “I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”

In addition to an overflowing crowd of students and faculty, members of the deaf community and representatives from the state Department of Education attended the pep rally.

Cheerleaders, the high school marching band, and the Red Raider’s mascot were just some of the entertainment for the spectators who swayed, held up small lights and clapped. When some of Andersen’s ASL students performed the lyrics to songs in sign language, the crowd erupted in applause.

Andersen thanked the crowd in brief remarks, saying none of this would be possible without the support of the administration, the community and, most of all, the dedication of her students.

Ocean City is one of only a handful of districts in the state that offer American Sign Language as a world language for hearing students. Andersen, of Cape May Court House, taught in Boston before moving back to Cape May County in 2004 and starting as a special education teacher at Ocean City High School. That same year, the district started its ASL program. Currently the program has more than 130 students.

ASL students perform.

Andersen, named as New Jersey Teacher of the Year in the fall, was selected this month as one of four finalists for National Teacher of the Year. The teacher is chosen from exemplary educators from each state, the U.S. extra-state territories, the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity. From that group, a national selection committee representing 14 renowned education and community organizations, which collectively represent millions of educators, selects four finalists. The winning teacher is chosen in the spring.

Kristen Brown, from the state Department of Education, is the chief talent officer and part of the selection process for choosing the top teachers in the state.

“She is not just a teacher who has mastered her subject. She is a teacher who understands and values another culture and leads with the ability to teach her students that,” Brown said of Andersen.

Chelsea Collins, also from the state Department of Education, said of Andersen, “She is teaching her students tolerance and acceptance. She is using ASL as a vehicle to do that.”

Ocean City High School Principal Matthew Jamison said the pep rally demonstrates how balanced the district is with both scholastic and athletic achievements.

Jamison addressed the crowd. “We wish her well. She will be the National Teacher of the Year,” he said amid cheers from the crowd.

Schools Superintendent Kathleen Taylor praised Andersen for her teaching talents.

“You could feel the energy in the room. That’s exactly what she brings to the school. She builds a sense of community. That is what she does so well,” Taylor said after the program. “She is an inspiration to her students and really makes a difference.”

Some of Amy T. Andersen’s students give her a group hug.