Jason Harrison had what he considered some "great teachers" growing up, and he knew early on that he wanted to teach.
"I grew up in the McKeesport Area School District and had a couple of teachers that were true inspirations. Plus, I've always been a patient guy, and this is a population that needs patience and attention," he said of his choice to work in special education.
On April 4, Mr. Harrison was named Outstanding Teacher of 2012 by the Ambridge Area Chamber of Commerce, the first year the award has been given.
As a special education teacher at Quaker Valley Middle School, he was nominated by his fellow teachers in the Quaker Valley Education Association.
"Because I was selected by my peers ... this is an unbelievable honor," he said.
Mr. Harrison, 35, of Bellevue, was the first member of his immediate family to go to college. His sister has since followed in his footsteps.
He wasn't familiar with the Quaker Valley School District until he received a phone call about the opening.
"I was back home after graduation, painting my parents' house, when I got this call," he said. "Then I found out it was a premier school district."
When he landed the job, he said, he couldn't believe his "good luck."
"I was a new teacher and really had to lean on the principal and other teachers. It was amazing how much support that I received," he said.
It was a role in which he was a natural, said Sean Aiken, principal at Quaker Valley Middle School.
"The best way to describe Jason is to say that nothing he does is average. He is unique in every way," Mr. Aiken said.
"The way that he collaborates with his fellow teachers and staff is stellar, and he exudes a positive, patient nature with his students."
Mr. Harrison said he had a particular hurdle this year in assisting his students with their move to a new school building.
"We had the transition to the middle school, and then we had the move. With my population, the transition can be a tough one," he said.
Mr. Aiken said Mr. Harrison's skills really shine during challenges such as the move.
"Even in difficult situations, he can manage a calm demeanor that his students need," he said.
After teaching in the field for a short while, Mr. Harrison knew it was a good fit and went on to obtain his master's degree from Duquesne University.
"When you are working in this field, you need to stay current. I want to be the best that I can be in this profession," he said.
Mr. Harrison said he wouldn't want to work in any other distrsict.
"I can't imagine teaching anywhere else," he said. "This is a wonderful district, and the support is amazing."neigh_north
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org