BINGHAMTON, NY – This teacher takes her own life experiences and uses them to help each and every one of her students grow into the best version of themselves.

Growing up in the Town of Conklin, Toni Dougherty used to visit the Discovery Center all the time as a child.

Now, she’s been the Lead U-P-K teacher at the children’s museum for the last 2 years. Not only does she teach, but she’s involved in the outreach programs there as well.

“I have chickens at home and I come in and I teach different lessons with the agricultural life or I’ve come in to do toddler times in the museum. Just knowing I’m apart of the community and that I’m able to help the community as they come in and give them outreach in all of their children to have some hands on experience is great,” says Dougherty.

Dougherty has known she wanted to be an educator since early high school. She says one of her high school teachers impacted her life and has shaped her into the teacher she is today.

“I see how big it is for emotional contact with a student so my biggest thing is I try to help all of my students as well and let them know how worthy they are and how good they are so that they can continue to grow in that same aspect,” says Dougherty.

Dougherty was nominated for this award by a parent of a student she taught last year.

The nomination reads that her son had a difficult time, and Dougherty was always so supportive and provided resources to help the parents out in any way she could, even sending pictures of their son playing to help ease their minds. Kristy Wales is the Education Director.

She says having Dougherty here is a blessing.

Her teaching style is amazing- very caring, very loving, but also structured enough to give the kids the experiences they need to learn and be successful later,” says Wales.

Dougherty has been teaching for 8 years, working with kids as young as 2 and a half and as old as 5. She is going back to school to obtain her 2nd bachelors degree, however she doesn’t plan on leaving the Discovery Center.

“I don’t know that I want to be anywhere else, though. I love having a partnership with the community and I love being able to still teach the state curriculum but also be able to play and be able to get right down, hands on with these students,” says Dougherty.

The U-P-K program is in partnership with the Binghamton City School District.

Working at the Discovery Center allows her to take lessons and integrate them into play by taking them around the Discovery Center, like play doctor, or pretend to be a news reporter.

“You’re learning about yourself as early an infant. You’re grasping on what you like to know, you’re grasping on to what is around you so as you’re growing you’re also learning how to be the best you possible,” says Dougherty.

There is nothing she loves more that coming into that classroom everyday. She says children are so honest and will always tell you if they don’t like something.

“I have taken so many lessons from my students to try to better myself, to try to better myself as a mom and in my education. So just knowing that when I come to work everyday I have my little cheerleaders that are there not only to learn from me but I learn from them,” says Dougherty.

She can’t thank the Discovery Center enough for all it’s given her