P. Diane Ballard

PLEASANT GROVE — When Diane Ballard's husband entered graduate school in 1986, she wanted to put her teaching degree to use. But instead she took a job at a hospital. She could not make ends meet with a starting salary of $13,900 a year.

"I had a 4 year old and a 2 year old; I figured I'd be taking home $700 a month, $400 which would go over to my baby sitter," she said.

But in 2002, Ballard finally entered the classroom as a sixth-grade teacher at John Hancock Charter School in Pleasant Grove. She said the transition was hard at first, "but I'm definitely doing what I was meant to do."

Ballard, now 49, is humbled by her students' curiosity and creates class activities to inspire them to seek answers. For instance, after studying ancient Egypt, the class mummified a chicken and buried it 2 feet underground. They thought about the chicken during "the freezing weather of January, the thaw of March, and the rains ... of April," she wrote in nomination forms, until the students raided the tomb in the spring.

Two years ago, Ballard became the school's special education director.

"Diane is the most dedicated teacher that I've ever seen," said John Hancock's director, Julie Adamic. "She cares about the individual student learning on the individual level, not just the whole group. She actually goes out of her way to find the positive in each student and help them succeed, and in areas where they need some (acceleration), exceed even more."