Winning program for military families gets White House recognition

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The Dougherty family waits outside the White House. From left are Ryan Barron and his fiancé, Laura Dougherty, Tom Dougherty Sr., Terry Dougherty and Tom Dougherty Jr.
GALLOWAY – Rogers Elementary School third-grade teacher Terry Dougherty, winner of the GOOD Great American Teach Off in November, followed up that honor with a visit to the White House in December.

Dougherty will be the keynote speaker for Richard Stockton College’s Dr. Martin Luther King Day of Service in January.

“I’ve been great,” said Dougherty who was accompanied to Washington by her family. “It’s been kind of a whirlwind with so many things happening.”

She received a $10,000 prize for winning the teach off and has purchased some technical equipment for her program, which helps students of military families.

Other honors have included the mayor’s award from Galloway.

But it was her program, not any of the associated honors, that earned her a trip to the nation’s capital.

“Lt. Cmdr. Rodney Lewis met us for the tour,” Dougherty said. “He is an assistant in the Office of the First Lady and specifically with her initiative Joining Forces. I also met with Brad Cooper who is the first lady's executive director for Joining Forces. The whole theme this year for the White House was honoring our military and their families, so I'm sure that's why I received the invitation.”

The Joining Forces program is being championed by both Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Jill.

Dougherty said it was incredible experience.

“The fact that I could send pictures and messages to my students through the whole tour was great,” she said. “I also was thankful that my own children could be there. As military children, now adults, they never had the opportunity to really feel appreciated for their sacrifices. This was a gift for them, too.”

Dougherty was one of 10 finalists in the Great American Teach-Off, chosen from hundreds of teachers nominated nationally in the contest hosted by the online community, GOOD, and the University of Phoenix.

Each week people went to the GOOD website and voted for their favorites, with the teachers with the least votes being eliminated. Dougherty was announced as winner Wednesday, Nov. 9 at a school assembly honoring veterans.

All of her hard work paid off, she said.

“I have been asked to write an article for the White House-Joining Forces website discussing my program,” Dougherty said. “That alone is such an honor and will continue to give our military children a voice.”

The whole family had a great time during two days in Washington Thursday and Friday, Dec. 22-23.

“One of the first lady's staff members toured us through,” Dougherty said. “This time of the year you're actually allowed to take pictures inside the White House, so I have a lot for the children to see.”

She said others have been in touch with her about starting similar programs where students are tutored in differing curriculums as they move with their military families. She also helps parents learn how to be advocates for their children.

“It gets the voice of the children out,” Dougherty said. “That’s the important thing. They’re in our communities.”

Dougherty said she’ll be able to expand her program through partnering with Stockton and setting up a website.

“It will streamline the paperwork,” she said. “I didn’t realize – it’s a lot of work.”

She said she looks forward to doing more public speaking.

“It’s a lot easier to speak in front of children,” she said. “But speaking is getting a little bit easier.”

Dougherty lives in Egg Harbor Township with her husband Tom. They have grown children, Tom Jr. and Laura.

She reflected on the program which she has expanded to include schools beyond her own.

“It first started with kids who were my neighbors,” she said. “It was never more than really helping the kids. And now it’s grown into all of this.”


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