Loeung Heads Speech and Debate

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jen Loeung

Madeline Sanstrum, Staff Writer

Jen Loeung’s first experience with speech and debate her freshman year of high school was not wholly promising except for a whole lot of improvement.

“My speech and debate coach gave me to topic: ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ It was an impromptu speech,” she said. “I hyperventilated, fell backwards, cracked my head open, had to have my hair shaved… and then had to have it sewn up. It was a horrible life experience.”  

After recovering from the injury and the experience, Loeung eventually began to do other events and even take on a few debates such as Parliamentary Debate, an event that consists of two teams that consist of two people who debate over a given issue for a set amount of time.  After gaining her bachelors in speech and media studies at Willamette University, along with a masters in teaching at George Fox, Loeung taught at a university. One day, her former sixth grade math teacher called and asked her to apply for an opening at Centennial Middle School with Alternative ED students. To two had remained in contact since she knew of Loeung’s work with street kids in PDX and lock in facilities in Scotland.

For a time, Loeung worked at CMS until she became too allergic to something within the building, and was then transferred to Centennial High School where she temporarily taught College English before settling into teaching intervention classes, sophomores, and speech her first year at CHS.

The reason for why she began to teach there was one in a million.

“The teacher who left CHS when I arrived had coached speech and debate, and the principal at the time was my former H.S. Activities director and he knew about my past with speech and debate, so he told me that I was in charge of after school intervention programs, the speech and debate team, and I was assigned to a district committee with trainer Gale Elkins for teaching staff about engaging learners.”

Over the years, Loeung has engaged with students and staff alike and has left a lasting impression for everyone she meets and talks to, inside and outside of the classroom for both Speech and Academic Lit.  

“[Mrs. Loeung] pushes them to levels they don’t know they can do,” said English teacher Phil Huff. “She will call home with positive and suggestive feedback for those students, and that’s a surprise to most of them. It lets them know that, not only does she care, she’s keeping track of how they’re doing and that combination helps students go farther than they think they could.”

One example of this is when Mrs. Loeung taught a former student who had a hard life and sent them to DHS. “She barely graduated from CHS, but turned her life around at MHCC, got a 4.0 and a full ride to finish her B.A. at [a] university.” Another case was another former student that was really smart, but her father didn’t want her to be “better” than them. She spent time with the family and in the end the student got a full ride to college and is now a social worker.

And she still does the same today.

“I’ve learned a lot of strategies for reading,” said one of her Academic Lit students, Marie Miller, “which is good because I’m not the best reader. She [also] helps me with getting caught up with me work.”

“I don’t remember what possessed me to walk into room 125 my freshman year,” said junior Winter Burris, a member of the Speech & Debate team, “but I do know that the moment I stepped through the door and saw Mrs. Loeung’s smiling face for the first time, my life got on a different track, a better track. I would not be who I am today if I had never met her.”

Apart from teaching her kids about speaking and better reading strategies, she still continues engaging with older people within their community such as in nursing homes and teaching her kids about compassion as she does with her classes through Christ and the way she helps kids with education, speech and debate, and that of life itself.

“I try to treat people with love, honesty and respect that Christ offered to us,” she said.  “We all have value and we all have struggles, being honest is important.”