Teacher wins contest to pay off student loan debt

BERLIN, N.J. (WPVI) -- Even though he loves teaching his fourth-grade class, Jeff McGrail would always have something in the back of his mind as he taught.

"Every six months or so I would just break down about it," he said when talking about his student loan debt.

He always knew that he wanted to be a teacher. What he didn't know is that he would amass more than $70,000 in debt while pursuing his passion.

After graduating from college, McGrail participated in an AmericaCorps teaching program that helped him pay down some of that debt. But, he still had a balance of more than $50,000. He wondered how he'd ever get it all paid on his teacher's salary.

"It's definitely a big chunk of my salary every month," he said.

The 30-year-old decided to enter a contest promoted by Freeform's TV show, Grown-ish. He wrote an essay on how much it would help him to have his student loan debt paid off. His essay was one of three winners selected from more than 150,000 entries.

One of the actors on "Grown-ish" delivered the big news in a video call.

"I just started crying," he said. "I just bawled my eyes out."

His students heard about the news on Thursday and celebrated almost as much as he did.

"I heard that he actually won," said David Farmer, who admits that he has no idea what a student loan is, but he does know that his teacher won't have to pay it anymore.

"I'm happy for him because now he doesn't have to pay all (the loans) off."

McGrail says not having the debt weighing him down will make him an even better teacher. His students think he's already great.

"Math is my favorite subject. And he teaches it so well that I understand it even more than I used to," said fourth-grader DJ Lewis.

McGrail says he'll put the money to good use planning his wedding in the fall and making plans to adopt a baby. He says life is already much better without the burden of student debt.

"It feels like now I don't have to worry about that (payment) every month," he said. "I can save it and use it for something that will really change my life."

Disney is the parent company of both Freeform and 6abc.
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