We are proud to welcome the following teachers to the WRAT Teachers Who Rock  Class of 2016, presented by the New Jersey Education Association, iPlay America, and Delicious Orchards.
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RedBank-PrimarySchoolPeggy Nerny is a first grade teacher at Red Bank Primary School. Peggy has set a new record: she received the most nomination letters of any teacher in the 8 years we’ve organized the Teachers Who Rock program. Five separate colleagues wrote to us supporting Mrs. Nerny.

The letters written to us about Mrs. Nerny include such words as passion, caring, empowerment, selfless, enthusiastic, and unconditional.

Mrs. Nerny has a loving and caring nature. Because she cares deeply, the school can count on each student in her care to come away with a sense of pride in their accomplishments. Her ability to instill a sense of determination in first graders isn’t something that can be learned, it’s a gift that Peggy has. Her school is clearly grateful that she has decided to share her gift with their kids.

Students in her care laugh along with her, sing along with her and employ simple yet effective learning tricks that Peggy created to help her students. One trick she invented is so popular, that kids literally chant it in the hallways!


Midstreams ElemKathe Morga, is an Education Support Professional at Midstreams Elementary school in Brick. Mrs. Morga is a past winner of Brick Schools’ Teacher of the Year award.

Kathe works with about 550 students every week, she helps students learn library and media skills. Despite such a large amount of students, each receive individual instruction based their needs, even special needs kids. Getting students to accept reading and be interested in reading is one of her main goals and she uses creative and imaginative methods to achieve success.One of the things that make Kathe so special is that she rigorously supports the idea of good character in her students. Good character leads to good behavior and students going on to be productive members of our community.

We’re pleased to honor Kathe Morga for being a right-hand to so many teachers at Midstreams Elementary school in Brick.


Point Pleasant boroEmily Bergman is a math teacher at Point Pleasant Boro High School.
Two things separate Ms. Bergman from the crowd: she’s amazing in the classroom and a leader outside of the classroom.In class, Emily is talented and flexible; constantly looking for new ways to educate her students. Her students learn and leave class with a prideful smile on their face.Emily shines outside of class as well. As the cheerleading coach she creates young people filled with school spirit, but also the spirit of giving. Charity is almost always linked to her coaching goals. Ms. Bergman has helped her cheerleaders organize fundraisers for many things: cancer research at the relay for life, local hurricane sandy victims, and so many more.Ms. Bergman has a genuine enthusiasm for her students.   Emily builds students’ self-esteem and nurtures them into successful young adults. She’s a true role model for the kids.


Stafford IntermediateNatalie Finley is a 5th and 6th-grade teacher at Stafford Intermediate School who teaches media and broadcasting.
What makes Mrs. Finley stand out is that she doesn’t seem to have the word, “no” in her vocabulary. No matter what the request, if it’s got anything to do with media, the answer is yes. This leads to her involvement in many after-school activities in which she participates enthusiastically.She’s so dedicated to the students and staff of the school that she took time at the beginning of Christmas break to edit a student video so that the kids and their families could enjoy their work over the holiday break. That’s dedication!Inside the classroom, Natalie is highly motivational and uniquely energizing. Her students become self-motivated: they often take what Mrs. Finley offers and run with it in very creative ways.


Belmar ElementarySusan Smith is the English Language Arts teacher at Belmar Elementary School.

Mrs. Smith quietly goes about her tasks of well planned lessons and creative activities to bring English to her students.

Susan has the perfect mix of character for a teacher: unconditional patience, compassion, dedication and professionalism. For her, the students always come first. She’s always looking for ways to enhance their school experience.

One simple act is evidence of this wonderful trait. Just before valentines day, she noticed that a local paint store was getting rid of unused paint sample strips. On her own time, she hand-punched hearts in the red-shaded strips and tied red ribbons to them, making Valentines bookmarks for her budding readers to use.
That’s the brand of kindness that Susan brings to school with her every day and makes her a teacher who rocks.


Manasquan High SchoolMarisa Marco teaches 10th and 11th grade English at Manasquan High School.
One special approach that Ms. Marco takes is to use pop culture to extend her students’ learning. No matter if it’s current pop culture, Disney characters or even Dr. Suess,  she’ll use the characters to demonstrate complex english theories. Using the younger characters makes students more relaxed and less intimidated by literary techniques.

Marisa has a special relationship with her students.  Evidence of this is the many letters of recommendation that she is asked to provide to her students. Her students respect her and her approval is important to them.

Ms. Marco’s talents aren’t left in the classroom. Marisa is also the senior class advisor. She assists with all fundraisers and helps in the prep work for homecoming and senior prom.


Clara B WorthKrista DesJardin is a first grade teacher at the Clara B. Worth school. Mrs. DesJardin is incredible because she adjusts each lesson so that the content will be accessible to every student in class. Krista confidently teaches above and beyond the manual whenever necessary. It takes an incredible amount time and effort to do this, but Krista revels in the experience.

Mrs. DesJardin has found ways to go beyond expectations for other faculty as well. Her investigation of “whole brain teaching” has led to greater performance by many teachers in school. And, get this, she’s removed desks from her class and built a developmentally appropriate learning environment for her students; it’s quite something to see.

We can’t forget the model classroom grant she won from a local financial institution, that grant – ten thousand dollars – went to a S.T.E.M lab for first graders.


Freehold HIghKathleen DeGregorio an 11th grade teacher at Freehold Boro High School. A colleague nominated Mrs. DeGregorio for this honor and they report that she is hard working, professional, and dedicated to both staff and students.

If Kathleen isn’t there for you as a selfless mentor, she’s there for you as union representative; a thankless job that she gracefully dedicates many hours to.

But, it’s as a teacher where Mrs. DeGregorio truly shines. Her classroom organization is second to none and how she applies her lessons to every day situations makes the kids believe in the relevance and importance of what they’re learning.

One sign that Kathleen has had a profound effect on students is last year’s valedictorian mentioned Kathy by name in her speech on graduation day as one of her role models and exceptional teachers she had at Freehold.


BrickMemorialHSRobert Sodt teaches science at Brick Memorial High School.  Year after year, Mr. Sodt makes biology come alive through fun, dynamic, and interesting approaches. Sometimes it seems unclear how Robert’s path will lead back to his lesson, but it always does with great results. His unique approach helps students excel at learning and it shows.

Mr. Sodt is also a great resource for fellow teachers. He takes pride in his mentoring and volunteers to help other teachers with their extra-curricular programs like science night at brick memorial.

There’s a lot of little things that makes Robert a special teacher.  He earns attention getting applause as he enters a room.  He’s got a  cool tie collection which is a constant source of curiosity.  His love of animals and family makes him a great role model for students.


lacey-middle-schoolMrs. Schlagenhaft, a science teacher at Lacey Township Middle School, is a total positive force in the impressionable minds of 8th graders. She leads and teaches by example each and every day. Each student strives for the best under her guidance; she doesn’t know the meaning of the word, “defeat”

Cheryl is also very active outside of the classroom as well. She volunteers for so many things it’s hard to keep track! Pep rally? Yep. 8th grade science assembly? Check. Walking club to get kids involved in school community? Done. Cheryl’s motto is, “How can I help?”

Mrs. Schlagenhaft also gets high praise for successfully intertwining autistic students in with her normal schedule so they can participate in science experiments as well.

What kind of results does she see from all this effort? Here’s a good example: she was so inspiring to one of her students that they recently called to thank her for getting him interested in science. That former student made the call from NASA- he’s ended up working in the space program!


frogpondMrs. Lupo teaches 3rd grade at Frog Pond Elementary School in Little Egg Harbor.  She began her career as a pre-school teacher. She was so good at it that her classroom was used as the model classroom, the class that visiting parents, aka prospective new clients, were shown as an example to entice enrollment.

Last year, Dora graduated!  She jumped at the opportunity to transfer grade levels and schools and she’s thrown herself into the opportunity. Dora has excelled in the challenging transition of jumping up a few grade levels.

One thing that has stood out about her is how Mrs. Lupo encourages her young minds to take ownership of the learning process.   This leads to inspired students who contribute to the positive energy of the classroom.

Dora excels at knowing when she needs to sit with some students to inspire their learning in a small group while still keeping the entire class engaged and that’s not an easy thing to accomplish.


HM-Potter-ESLogoLori Byron is a first-grade teacher at H&M Potter School in Bayville.

Though Mrs. Byron is a 26-year veteran teacher, her time and effort rivals anyone who’s just joining the teaching profession. She’s first to arrive and last to leave just about every day.

Speaking of the newbies, Lori takes particular pride in helping and assisting all the new teachers in the elementary school. Her eager assistance has helped more than a few teachers get off to a successful start: look up mentor in the dictionary and you could be likely to see Lori’s picture.

As a teacher’s representative, Mrs. Byron assures that all teachers are treated with respect, with fairness and professionally.

Her dedication to the craft of teaching extends into volunteering to help out at countless after school programs, in more capacities than we can list here today.


Toms-River-HS-EastErin Anders is a math teacher at Toms River High School East.
What separates Mrs. Anders from her peers is her selfless acts of kindness and concern for the well-being of the student population, particularly the at-risk students.Erin is the school’s student mentoring coordinator. She runs a program of more than 100 students and 70 teachers which is geared towards the school’s most challenging population. Her dedication to this group is heartwarming.Student growth is the direct outcome of Erin’s hard work. She is directly responsible for increased attendance, college and career readiness, positive behavioral differences and student safety. Clearly, without Erin Anders’ efforts Toms River High School East would be at a severe disadvantage. She has made many, many personal sacrifices.


SouthernRegionalSDOver the past 24 years, Mrs. Patterson has proudly, yet humbly, shared her passion for literature with her students.

Nancy’s “Authors Project” makes the written word become real for her students. She has students research a current author and then reach out to the author with material requests or specific questions. Imagine her students’ amazement when the authors respond. It makes the literary experience become real for her kids.

Mrs. Patterson’s firm but kind classroom demeanor creates a comfortable environment; so much so that many of her students have given her the nickname, “mom.”

Above and beyond the classroom, you’ll find Nancy volunteering at a local juvenile detention center. She’s on the Instructional Council and Principal’s Advisory Committee and was an integral part of the restructuring council that transformed the school. She also volunteers as an advisor for both the drama club and the school variety show.


Freehold Township HighMr. Monafis teaches Latin at Freehold Township High School and shows true enthusiasm and passion for teaching every day. He remains current with the latest instructional strategies but also knows how to use simple and profound teaching methods to reach troubled or struggling students. On the other hand, should another student be progressing quickly, he’s quick to notice and accelerates that students’ learning so they don’t become bored.

Efstratios doesn’t limit his good will to students, however. He also serves as a teachers’ mentor; helping other teachers perfect their classroom management, lesson planning, and daily activities.

Mr. Monafis serves as the advisor of several important school groups and he was recently voted the Freehold Township High School 2016 Teacher of the Year.

Midtown Community Elementary School

Midtown-CommunityJaneen Weedon is a teacher at Midtown Community Elementary in Neptune Township. She’s a lifelong Neptune resident who graduated from Neptune High School, and for the last 13 years, she’s taught Kindergarten, Third Grade and is currently teaching First Grade. She remains an active member of the community, attending many district events, and she even coaches soccer.

She’s enthusiastic, nurturing, and always has her students best interests at heart. Her students feel her genuine love and concern for their well being. Janeen never looks for recognition; she is very humble and would rather fly under the radar for all that she does for her students. Midtown’s teacher of the year is always willing to lend a hand. She’s an inspiration to her students, as well as her colleagues. Janeen has high expectations and is always raising the bar. She is an asset to her students and her community.

Drum Point Elementary School

DrumPointThe spotlight shines on Michelle McNeary, a Special Education teacher at Drum Point Elementary School. Dedication, compassion, and diligence are all attributes that describe Michelle. Michelle cares deeply about all of her students. She leads the Drum Point social committee and her work and presence make the community a better place.

She’s devoted to learning and sharing her knowledge which makes her a perfect mentor for her fellow teachers. Michelle has developed her own curriculum by utilizing recent trends and research to serve the diverse needs of her special education students to help maximize their learning potential. Ongoing assessment of student learning enables her to make appropriate modifications to suit their education level.  She puts forth untouchable quality and effort into all that she does.

Lakewood High School

Lakewood High SchoolAimee Ruddy teaches science at Lakewood High School. Aimee deserves to be honored as a Teacher Who Rocks because she’s dedicated to science, to students and to service.

Mrs. Ruddy serves as a class advisor, co-advisor of the national honor society, and advisor of the Rewind Club. All that is beyond her numerous responsibilities as an excellent science teacher.

Aimee’s passion for scientific discovery radiates from her into her lessons and into her students. Ask a Lakewood High School student and they’ll tell you that Aimee’s class was the best science experience of their four years in school.

One more thing: adding to her growth and opportunity, Aimee recently applied for the Earth Watch program which will allow her to bring more outside science experiences to her students.

Thorne Middle School

Thorne Middle SchoolKristyn Corace is a very special, special education teacher at Thorne Middle School in Port Monmouth. She was nominated for this honor by not one, but three people: a colleage and two parents of her former students.

Mrs. Corace is very special. She is a true advocate for special education students. Every student learns at their appropriate level and yet she ensures that her special students aren’t treated any differently than other children.

Mrs. Corace puts students’ needs ahead of all else. Kristyn not only attends workshops constantly but she continues to search for ways to tap into the brilliance of each student. If a student comes to her unable to speak, she finds a way for that kid to have a voice: be it pictures, technology, or simply taking the time to share eye contact. Same thing for kids with other special needs: she finds a way.

One other note: Kristyn is ultra organized. She keeps communication notebooks for students’ parents to keep educated about their kids. She even keeps a record of past students’ birthdays so she can send a card for their special day. Seriously, who does that?

Howell High School

HowellHSKevin Dee, is the super-spirited math teacher of Howell High School.

The amazing thing about Mr. Dee is how he creates a special rapport with all of his students. Believe it or not, math comes alive in his classroom and it’s all because of his passion for the kids and the subject matter.

Kevin has been honing his teaching skills for over twenty years; he constantly strives to be the best teacher he can be, no matter the challenge.

Mr. Dee also brings that same level of dedication and passion to athletics, as he’s been a track and field coach for Howell High School for over twenty years as well.

Kevin is a passionate teacher who connects with his students and an icon in New Jersey when it comes to track and field.

Monmouth County Vocational School District

MCVSDMegan McCabe teaches 11th and 12th graders at the Academy of Law and Public Safety at the Monmouth County Vocational School District.

Ms. McCabe teaches crime scene investigation to her young adults. She makes sure that all her students have a direct, hands-on learning experience. Her lesson plans are thought through in the same way a coach plans a practice. Once she develops the goal, she creates a path towards learning that is very successful.

Young minds become creative under Ms. McCabe’s approach. One particular success is the boot box crime scene project; many of her students create complex reincarnations of crime scenes that are very impressive.

Red Bank Middle School

RedBankMiddleMrs. Christina Vlalhos has taught many grade levels, but she always has the same positive attitude. She clearly believes that learning should be fun. She also realizes that students must feel important and she recognizes each students’ greatness with regularity.

Christina’s relationship with her students’ parents is also important to note. She makes parents feel like they’re part of the classroom and respects all cultural backgrounds. This gives parents something very important: buy-in and responsibility for their kids’ educations.

Mrs. Vlalhos has a passion for teaching that can only come from within, and that passion also inspires other teachers in her school.

Special Education and Language Arts, Marlboro Middle School

marlboroRosemary Mazzara is a Special Education and Language Arts teacher at Marlboro Middle School.

One thing that sets Mrs. Mazzara apart is the fact that, though she teaches the required lessons, she also teaches outside the syllabus; and that is really important to many of her special needs students.

Here’s a few things that Rosemary stresses that even most of us adults could be reminded of: the importance of optimism, respect for others, and having good manners. Life lessons, to be sure.

Mrs. Mazzara’s optimism in her classroom is contagious: each student leaves her classroom with a positive outlook and can-do attitude.

8th Grade English, Hazlet Middle School


Mrs. Darold is currently rocking her second year of being an AVID teacher, standing for “advancement via individual determination”.  She’s perfect for this teaching method because it drives teachers to see the potential in students.

To learn this new method, Mrs. Darold spent the summer of 2014 reading and learning, not relaxing on the beach, and it’s paid dividends for her students.

Christina believes in setting high standards for students so that they can rise to challenges and be their best self. She focuses on student growth in literacy skills, organization, collaboration, and inquiry… and since learning this new method, she’s been great at sharing the new skills with her colleagues.

Not only that, much of her success has been with at-risk kids who truly benefit the most from her positive feedback and have grown real interest in college, career, and community service. Her students have begun to see themselves as important members of a team of learners.

4th Grade at Walnut Street Elementary in Toms River


Raymond Roe is a 4th-grade teacher at Walnut Street Elementary in Toms River.

If you have one teacher in your life that you remember with admiration,  Ray Roe is that person. He’s left a lasting effect on students with his careful creative approach and impressive classroom organization.

Mr. Roe’s students have many learning events to look forward to each day and, over the course of the year, they’re involved in many hands-on learning experiences.

One simple example is Ray’s recycling science fair, where 4th-grade students create science-themed games from recycled items.

Additionally, Mr. Roe has the ability to lift troubled students up with acceptance, support, and equality; not an easy skill to develop.

Ray’s PTO fundraiser, “Night of a Million Laughs” not only raises funds for school programs, but is a hit with students, parents, and his colleagues.