A Washougal School District teacher and a long-time school volunteer were recognized as Real Heroes of Clark County through the Learn Here project honoring individuals for outstanding service to students and education in Clark County. Dani Allen, art teacher at Jemtegaard Middle School and Rona Ager, parent, Booster Club member and STEAM advocate, were recognized at an award program on October 17 with 21 other honorees.
The countywide program, created by Identity Clark County, recognizes educational staff and volunteers in partnership with educational institutions for their efforts to serve the Clark County school communities. Sponsors of the award program were RealLiving Real Estate Group, Port of Vancouver USA and NW Capital Mortgage.
Dani Allen is an outstanding art teacher at Jemtegaard Middle School, a position she has held for the past five years. She has worked for the Washougal School District for 12 years in a combination of Special Education and Art positions. Allen is a passionate advocate for public art, partnering with the City of Washougal and the Washougal Art and Culture Alliance to showcase student art through projects like murals in parks, art displays at City hall, and art galleries as part of Washougal Youth Art Month. She and her Club 8 students recently completed a mural on a retaining wall in downtown Washougal at D and Durgan Streets.
Allen cultivates an appreciation for different artistic styles and media, with a program that engages youth in art that is relevant and meaningful to them. Students share that Allen helped them understand art as an idea, and grow an awareness of the importance and beauty of their ideas, and that she helps build their confidence, supports them when they are not having a good day, and teaches them that they can do amazing things with their lives. Allen continues her work with students through projects in the school’s Club 8program, which offers after-school enrichment activities and interest exploration. Allen leverages student interest in technology to expand their artistic skills, with creative lessons involving stop motion animation and film making.
Allen is a champion for students with special needs and differences, too. She started a Unified sports program in 2014, first with soccer, then later with multiple teams, and eventually multiple sports. The Unified sports teams include students with special needs and abilities, helping them grow their skills so they can practice and compete with other teams around the region. Her soccer team won the silver medal at the state tournament last season. Allen was also a Gay Straight Alliance advisor for students in several schools, recognizing the impact these clubs have on promoting student inclusion and well-being, as well as fostering a safe school climate for all learners.
Rona Ager has been volunteering in classrooms and supporting the Gause Elementary Boosters for nearly 10 years. She is known for spearheading and taking the lead on numerous Booster projects and is always available to help where needed around school.
Ager created and oversees the grade level enrichment program and Booster supported assemblies, bringing in at least two or more fun and unique experiences for students each year. A personal goal was to help organize with other elementary schools to negotiate discounts when contracting for presentations. This idea paid off with a guest storyteller assembly last year and this year with the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) Museum.
Her special interest in the support of STEAM projects lead her to organize a Science Night five years ago which has become a family STEAM Night. The past two years, the event included a Science Fair with a student science project competition during the school day for ages kindergarten to fifth grade.
She organized volunteers to help support Booster and classroom activities, took care of the bulletin boards and display case/communications, led the BoxTops and Labels collection fundraisers (one year bringing in more than $2,000 in box tops), enhanced and organized the Mustang Market, managed and started the monthly birthday display case, and has stepped up to hold various Booster Club officer roles through the years.
When beloved Gause teacher, Alisa Vail, passed after a battle with cancer, Ager organized the purchase, installation and unveiling ceremony of a Buddy Bench to honor Vail.
Ager stepped up to lead the Mustang Hall of Fame Celebrations which rewards positive student behavior, she broadened it from an extra recess to now include shows, games and special activities three times a year. She has also arranged events honoring veterans at the Veterans Day assemblies for Gause Elementary School and Jemtegaard Middle School (JMS) as well as the “Honor roll/On a roll” at JMS. She has assisted with Sport-a-Thon, Family Fitness Night, Artists in Residency and Teacher Wish List programs.
“None of what I have done over the years has been without collaborating with so many other fantastic and committed volunteers and staff doing all kinds of other things as well as backing up and supporting the areas I have led,” she explained. “It truly is a team activity to support our schools and students. It’s been an honor being a part of making great things happen in the Washougal School District!”
By Jodi Thomas, ESD 112