Shannon Dougherty ('10, '11M) is helping kids choose a healthy lifestyle that will continue into adulthood
By Jacquelyn Walsh ('09)
Staying at JMU one more year to earn her master's degree, Shannon Dougherty ('10, '11M) is focusing on her future as an elementary school physical education teacher. "Being a teacher at an elementary school is a lot of work. I want to create some additional programs for kids — like a morning PE class or an afterschool program where they can learn to be fit. It's about really focusing on living a lifestyle that students can continue to adulthood."
Shannon Dougherty did not spend her Spring Break like most college students. She wasn't on a beach in Cancun or visiting old high-school friends, but she still had a great time. During the first part of spring semester, Dougherty worked as a student teacher at Thomas Harrison Middle School in Harrisonburg teaching physical education to almost 400 children. It was the first week of her last eight weeks as a senior at JMU. For the rest of the semester she taught PE full time.
Dougherty, a kinesiology major in physical and health education teacher education, came to JMU from Baltimore, Md., where she graduated in a class of just 59 students from Maryville Preparatory High School, an all-girls Catholic school.
Coming to JMU was an easy choice for Dougherty, who heard about the university from friends who had graduated before her. While visiting her friends at JMU, Dougherty became interested in the Madison Experience. "One of the first things that really drew me in was how friendly everybody is," says Dougherty, who, as a freshman, declared athletics training as a major. "I looked at other schools, but I decided to come here, and I'm glad I made that choice."
Dougherty soon discovered the athletics training major wasn't the best fit for her. After taking a career assessment test at the JMU Career Center, she found an interest in being a physical education teacher.
"After I thought about it more, I said, 'Alright, let's do it.' I had always known that I wanted to work with kids, and I want to help people," says Dougherty. "I've always been somebody who got involved."
As an avid Special Olympics volunteer throughout high school, Dougherty discovered that she could continue her volunteer work by joining the JMU chapter of the national service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega. "I loved being able to get off campus and do things in the community," says Dougherty, who participated in a rebuild in New Orleans with the group. "It was great to be around other people who want to help out."
Dougherty got involved in every aspect of the Madison Experience including becoming a First Year Orientation Guide, known affectionately by JMU students as FROGs. "I loved being a FROG because I wanted to get other people involved in the JMU experience and to get them as excited about JMU as I am," she says. "You can try anything and do anything at JMU. You're going to be accepted no matter what you do. You don't have to be in sports; you don't have to be in a sorority; you don't have to do anything that a typical college student does. JMU professors, students and administrators let you be who you are. You get to know what you want to do."
Because of her passion for helping children with disabilities, Dougherty also picked up a minor in special education. With the help of kinesiology professor Tom Moran, Dougherty has put together various outreach programs geared specifically to local children with disabilities — a parks and recreation program, a training program for community organizations, and an aquatics program to teach children with disabilities how to swim. She also helps with Just for Kicks, Helping Hands and Project CLIMB (Children Learning to Improve Movement Behaviors), all programs that Moran coordinates.
"Dr. Moran has really helped me get into working with children with disabilities, and I came to him after getting into the program and told him that I wanted to do more," says Dougherty.
Geared with individualized lesson plans from Project CLIMB, Dougherty helped students learn basic skills like throwing, catching and working in groups, which she says enhanced her teaching skills.
"Shannon just relished leadership opportunities and ran with them for no other glory than her own professional development and the feeling she gets from working with kids," says Moran. "Her willingness to further herself as a teacher sets her apart from her peers."
In March Dougherty received the Outstanding Major of the Year award at the national American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance conference in Indianapolis.
Dougherty agrees that seeing her work touch the lives of children and their parents provides a motivation that is unrivaled. "The kids are so loving and appreciative and all their parents are the same way," says Dougherty. "They are grateful that there is something their kids can do other than just going to school and coming home. These parents go above and beyond for their kids."
Dougherty has even taught her peers as a guest speaker in Melinda Burchard's Survey of Learning Disabilities class. "I taught my peers about how kids with learning disabilities [also] have problems in PE; it's not just English and writing and math. When you're in a PE setting, kids can be completely confused and you might not think about that as a PE teacher," explains Dougherty. Burchard adds, "Shannon is great at explaining the basic rules of the games, leading students through an experience of a game and then leading students through reflection on what would be challenging about those games for students with various disabilities. Shannon is enthusiastic, articulate and well-organized."
In March Dougherty received the Outstanding Major of the Year award at the national American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance conference in Indianapolis. Her classmates nominated her to represent JMU and the physical and health education teacher education program. "I was surprised when I got nominated, but it's exciting," says Dougherty. "It reassures me that I'm on the right path."