MADISON — A teacher at Madison Area Memorial High School has been recognized for her commitment to financial education and passion for teaching, but her colleagues and a former student say the life skills she instills in students as a tough-love educator and her understanding of change are what make her exceptional.

In September, Raelene Allen was named one of the top two Maine educators in financial literacy by the Maine Jump$tart Coalition, which recognizes individuals who stand out through their efforts to improve financial education to students and families.

Inspired by a student teacher and former accounting teacher, Allen, with a degree in business education from the University of Maine at Machias, began teaching in 1999 at Madison Area Memorial High School.

Her passion for teaching, she says, comes from the “ah-ha” moments when students understand her lessons.

In her financial literacy class, which students are required to take, she walks them through opening up a savings account, navigating banks, budgeting, spending, credit, insurance and investting.

Madison High is a Gold Standard School for Personal Finance, meaning it requires all students to take at least a semester of personal finance to graduate.

“I really love when students ‘get’ it, when they learn something new and the look on their face is amazing,” Allen said. “They understand and appreciate what they have been given, and that’s very rewarding.”

Allen also recognizes that change is a constant.

“We talk a lot about the difference between what their parents used to do versus what they are going to do to keep their minds open for the future,” Allen said. “Things are going to continue to change, but they have to be comfortable enough to just go out there and try new things.”

Teaching financial literacy courses requires constant training as the needs for such programs continue to evolve. Allen regularly attends conferences and works with other educators around the country.

One of the most-rewarding parts of her job, she says, is when students reach out to her after they have graduated to thank her for setting them up for success with skills that they learned in her classroom.

Regan Mantor, left, says her former teacher Raelene Allen, standing with her at the Madison Area Memorial High School graduation in 2018, “taught us real-life information and made her classes applicable to what we would be doing.”

“She’s very good at what she does,” said former student Regan Mantor, who graduated in 2018 from Madison Area Memorial High School. “She is able to go with changes and adapt to them and she loves it.”

Mantor met Allen early in her high school career and created a bond that Mantor says Allen has with many other students.

“She’s always stuck out as one of my favorite teachers,” Manter said, “because she always took care of me and knew what was going on.”

“She really goes out of her way for her students to make sure that we are all taken care of.”

Mantor, a second-year psychology student at Thomas College in Waterville, said the skills she learned in Allen’s classroom have helped her in college and everyday life.

“(Allen) has set me up for life,” Mantor said. “She taught us real-life information and made her classes applicable to what we would be doing. I think she’s just an all-around, really good, well-balanced person.”

Allen was nominated for the award by Principal Christopher LeBlanc and Guidance Counselor Dean Collins. Both have worked with Allen since she began teaching 20 years ago.

“(Collins) brought it to my attention and anytime we can recognize one of our own, we do it,” LeBlanc said. “(Allen) is very task-oriented, and if there is anything that this school needs, she is the go-to person.

“She has been here for a long time and understands the community and the importance of a small school, and is very committed to her profession.”

Added Collins: “You can always ask her to do a lot for us, and she does it. (LeBlanc and I) call on her to do numerous things in support of the school and she is always happy to do it.”

Beyond Allen’s commitment to school and profession, however, LeBlanc praises her teaching style, which he describes as a tough-love, professional approach in the classroom, with high expectations for all students — regardless of their plans for after graduation.

Raelene Allen, a teacher at Madison Area Memorial High School teacher, has been named one of two Maine JumpStart Coalition educators of the year. Allen, who teaches financial education, is shown last Wednesday in her classroom.

“She teaches many of the soft skills necessary for students to be successful, regardless of their post-secondary aspirations — whether that is to go into the workforce, go to a vocation school or go down the college track,” LeBlanc said.

“The students that have her are going to be successful, regardless of their post-secondary desires.”

Throughout the years, Allen said, technology has been the biggest change she has seen in education.

“Electronics have changed our society and the way that we look at education,” Allen said. “I think kids today think of traditional careers and don’t realize that we are here to teach critical thinking and decisions.

“It’s important that they make the most of their education so that they can do  jobs that haven’t been created yet — teaching them good work ethic so that they can work independently and work from home because that’s where jobs are going to be in the future.”

While Allen fills several roles at the high school, she has also taught at other institutions, including Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield, Thomas College, Backyard Farms in Madison and Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan.

Moving forward, Allen said, her focus is also on introducing financial education at the junior high level.

“It’s my goal for the year to bring lessons for either teachers to use, or I can go down and teach a lesson one afternoon,” she said. “I just want to open the door to financial education. It’s part of our life. If we can’t teach kids life skills so that they can survive and be members of our society, it doesn’t matter if you’re an engineer working for the mill or if you’re working at Walmart. You need the financial skills in everything that you do, and we need good workers in all aspects, no matter what job you’re working.

“Education is always going to be part of our lives. We’re always learning something new.”

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