STONINGTON — A handful of seniors, finished at Stonington High School aside from making it official at commencement exercises Thursday evening, showed up in Lisa Allen’s classroom Monday morning.
The chemistry room/lab was spotless and white, making Allen, wearing a bright orange shirt and sporting glasses with purple frames, stand out.
“She has a very direct way,” senior Emily Grey said. “She makes sure people understand the subject. Chemistry, in general, is the first time we really see science, away from the easy stuff. She changes your way of thinking about the subject and pushes you to your limit.”
Grey and her peers were part of the entourage of school officials and fellow teachers who surprised Allen with the district’s Teacher of the Year honor Monday.
“She’s the best,” senior Frank Sternberg said.
Allen is days away from completing her 15th year at SHS as a chemistry teacher who instructs every level of the subject, from honors to advanced placement. Her other teaching stints include Killingly High School in Danielson, Conn., for seven years as a science teacher and Chelmsford High School in Chelmsford, Mass., for a year as a biology teacher.
She adamantly shakes her head “no” to the question of whether teaching science was something she always wanted to do. “I wanted to sit on a beach in France and eat bon-bons,” Allen said, “but then I said, ‘I’ll do this instead.’ It just kind of happened. It’s really fun to teach anything.”
Her husband, Anthony Allen, who helped surprise his wife with the award, said her ability to make chemistry fun and simple reaches her students.
“She had a student who was discussing his grades with his father,” said Allen, who lives with Lisa in Wakefield. “The father looked through his son’s grades and saw that his lowest grade was in chemistry. So he asked him why he was taking it. The boy replied, ‘because it’s interesting, I like Mrs. Allen and it’s my favorite class. “She doesn’t give up on her students.”
So her students don’t give up on the subject.
“She loves chemistry, she loves her field,” Deidre Toole, a special education teacher at SHS, said. “She’s just so in love with what she teaches. It’s contagious. And even if kids don’t like chemistry, they learn to respect it. She’s in her room every night until 5 or 6. She spends her time outside of school and during the summer on chemistry. We have a real gem in her.”
Allen recently was selected to do a fellowship at the U.S. Naval Submarine Base in Groton. She will spend a few weeks during the summer learning about submarines.
“I’ll be writing chemistry curriculum linking the subs to the new standards,” she said. “It’s kind of exciting,”
Allen has taken part in summer professional development activities every year since 2006. She is affiliated with the National Science Teachers Association and New England Association of Chemistry Teachers. She also is a mentor to student teachers and beginning teachers.
She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1984 and her master’s degree from URI in 1995.
I do what I do for the kids,” she said. “That’s what I love about teaching. The kids. I have wonderful students. They’re the bomb.”
Allen, who couldn’t find too many words when she found out she was chosen as Stonington’s top teacher, relied on her students.
“I don’t even know how I feel,” Allen said about being named Teacher of the Year. “I’m kind of shocked a lot.”
So Sternberg offered a hand: “You feel orange,” he said.