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An 'Exceptional Woman': Educator finds strength in her students

Diane Allen has been teaching English and helping students earn their GED for more than 42 years


by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - After losing her mother at 15, Diane Allen was motivated to attend and finish college. Now she encourages students of all backgrounds to do the same.Diane Allen lives her life in such a way that she encourages others to be strong and self-sufficient.

Allen has taught GED classes part-time for Mt. Hood Community College’s Maywood Park Campus and English as a second language for the college for 42 years.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Diane Allen, left, with fellow instructors, Sue Byers, middle, and Donna Ball.“Diane can be seen at every graduation helping students with hair-pins for wobbly hats, and handing out cards and gifts for students she has helped through the program,” said Donna Ball, Allen’s longtime friend and co-worker.

She has seen hundreds of students’ lives changed by completing the GED. The joy for her is watching each move on to pursue higher education, a better job or simply fulfill a personal dream.

Allen has and continues to be not only an educator, mentor and mother figure for her students, but others in her life: her friends, family, church members and community.

“It’s what I love to do,” said Allen, a soft-spoken woman with a bright smile and calm disposition. At 72, in a black-and-white patterned dress and blond pixie cut, she radiates a kind of soothing and positive energy that may only come from a life dedicated to teaching and helping others.

“I get paid to do what I love, which is helping people achieve their goals,” Allen said.

After she graduated from Lewis and Clark College with a degree in psychology, Allen spent four years living in Japan with her husband. While he was in the U.S. Air Force, she taught English as a second language (ESL) in a Japanese university.

Upon her return to Gresham,

Allen got an evening job through Mt. Hood Community College, teaching ESL at David Douglas High School. She recalls in 1971 there were about 13 languages spoken in her classroom, while at the time there were practically no guidelines for teaching English as a second language.

With the help of the high school’s dean, Allen wrote a grant to organize a committee and develop statewide objectives for teaching ESL. Aligning with instructors in other states, Allen represented Oregon at a national TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) convention in New York.

Today instructors are trained and certified to teach English through the TESOL Core Certificate program.

Allen taught ESL for six years until she took time off to raise a family. She returned to work as a receptionist for the GED program at MHCC’s Maywood Park Campus.

Moving into a teaching position, she spent the next 36 years helping teens and adults earn their high school equivalency credentials and pursuing higher education. In 1976, the MHCC board of directors presented Allen with the Strawberry Award for chairing the first GED graduation ceremony.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Allen helped her granddaughter, Nicole Tannarome, earn her GED.Allen says there are many faces of GED students, from the 16-year-old mother who dropped out of high school to take care of her child to the labor worker who lost his job and needs to upgrade his skills, to the 75-year-old student returning to get the education he or she has done so long without.

More so than ever, Allen said GED instructors are helping students be more college and job ready. Aside from teaching and testing on high school basics — reading, writing, math and science — students also are learning personal and life skills and college prep and employment skills.

“We are not just a GED program anymore,” she said.

Allen was 15 when her mother died. Before then, her mother was her inspiration to finish college.

“My mother was an educational encourager,” Allen said.

That passion took root, and carries forward in her own work.

She feels a deep connection with the students who don’t have strong mother or father figures in their lives. For some, she is that person, caring and pushing them forward.

“They come in pretty scared,” Allen said. “We help them through the process.”

In the 1980s, Allen helped establish a welfare reform program, Steps to Success, for welfare recipients. She also worked on Even Start, an offshoot of Head Start, to help students not only with education, but good parenting.

Friends say Allen’s personal life reflects the same values she takes to the classroom.

She and her husband, Gary, have been married for 52 years. The two met in the sixth grade at Woodlawn Grade School and reconnected when they attended Jefferson High School together.

“We just hit it off right away, and I knew she was the one,” Gary said.

On staying together, they credit supporting each other in their own interests, a by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Diane and her husband, Gary Allen, have been married for 52 years.strong faith and staying active in their church and community.

Music also brings them closer. The two spent many years volunteering at the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival in the 1980s. Gary and Diane live in Gresham.

When they married during her senior year of college, Allen adopted her mother-in-law as her own. When Twila Allen fell ill in recent years and could no longer live alone, the Allens sold their home and purchased a duplex, so she could live next door to them and feel safe, yet still maintain her independence. She treated her mother-in-law with love and respect until her death a few years ago.

That same caring nature has been handed down to Allen’s three daughters and 10 grandchildren (seven girls, three boys).

She recently became the grandmother of a very special 13-year-old girl.

Through their church, Allen’s youngest daughter and her husband had been taking care of the girl’s mother who was sick with cancer. When the mother died, Allen’s daughter adopted Angel. Allen enjoys the time she gets to spend with all her grandchildren, which now includes Angel.

These days, Allen said she is providing more of a support role at the Maywood Park Campus, tutoring two nights a week. When not at work, she often is volunteering with her husband in the community, preparing meals for people at her church, walking with friends around Glendoveer Golf Course, or spending time with her family.

Reflecting on her career, Allen said, the most rewarding part of her job is watching “the light bulb go on” in her students.

“That’s the joy in it,” she said.

Allen keeps a binder full of graduation photos, often picturing Allen standing between her students.

“She always stands at the end of the ramp after students cross the stage to receive their diploma, and gives them one last hug to wish them well, even those students she doesn’t personally know,” her friend and co-worker Donna Ball said.

Asked what makes her tick, Allen said, “It is my faith.”

Embodying a “you can do it, we can do it” motto, she said, “I have seen so many people overcome their obstacles. I think that’s true for me.”

Her philosophy for students she works with: “I always see their strengths. And I help them overcome their weaknesses.”




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