MEXICO – For Meroby Elementary School first-year teacher Jessica Allen, the upcoming school year makes her feel like she has come full circle.

She attended the school for the first time as a fifth-grade student in Lisa (Chase) Belanger’s class. Now, she will be teaching fifth grade, and she pointed out in a recent interview how the seed of teaching inspiration was planted under Belanger’s mentoring.

“It was really ironic when I got this position,” she said. “I explained how I wanted to be a teacher when I was in her class.”

As a senior at Mountain Valley High School, Allen came back to teach during her study halls as a student aide in Belanger’s class. Prior to that, she had briefly entertained thoughts of becoming a journalist.

“It was one of my strengths growing up. Writing and reading is prevalent growing up,” Allen said.

After graduating high school in 2004, Allen was eager to attend the University of Maine at Farmington then seek employment as a teacher, which she assumed would be somewhere outside the area.

Little did she know that fate would play a role in guiding her back to the place where she had enjoyable times growing up.

At UMF, Allen met the man who is now her fiancee, Kevin Sirois. She mentioned that his family is from the River Valley, and Sirois also played a crucial part in getting Allen more focused on her studies and less on the multiple jobs she was working.

The end result to the increased focus on education for Allen was a bachelor of science degree in elementary education from UMF she received last spring, with a concentration in language arts and writing. When asked to share the reasons behind her teaching passion, Allen said there is nothing like watching children blossom upon learning something new.

“I love working with students and children,” she exclaimed. “Whether it’s one or as a group, seeing them ‘get it’ is the best part. Really watching that light bulb come on is neat.”

Her interest in the profession was enhanced by a student teaching experience at the Park Avenue School in Auburn. There, she encountered students who had immigrated from countries such as Somalia and Haiti and was fascinated by the 13 different languages that were spoken and the students’ cultural backgrounds.

“It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was so much fun,” she said.

During her senior year at UMF, Allen attended a job fair and was introduced to a Web site, She discovered there was an opening for a teaching position at Meroby, and applied.

“I called my supervisor, I was really excited,” Allen said. “I said, I really want this.”

Other job interviews also beckoned, but Allen was afraid to commit to a teaching position before she learned whether or not she had gotten one at Meroby.

“It’s kind of an easy fit,” she said, noting that her knowledge of the school and many of the teachers there were key factors in her decision.

In the past couple of weeks, Allen has been busy organizing her classroom to make it as user-friendly as possible and learning about programs such as word study. “Every other classroom I’ve done, it’s been set up ahead,” she noted.

An interesting twist to Allen’s classes this year will be a comment box for student suggestions about classroom activities they like or dislike, and what they would like to learn more about.

The staff, she emphasized has been “amazing. They’ve been very supportive, very encouraging. It makes you feel like you belong here.”

Allen also credited Principal Scott Drown for giving her “a lot of good resources, good ideas to get the ball rolling.”

She isn’t nervous about meeting the students.

“I’m very excited to meet them. You always have a new group of students every year.”

Providing a safe environment and encouraging the students to demonstrate their unique personalities and talents will be among Allen’s goals for this year.

“I want to be able to give them all the preparation they need for the next level,” she said. “I want to make sure the students are socially and academically prepared and can build off each other’s strengths.”

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