With 17 years of teaching kindergarten, Shelley Soifer is considered a mentor by her peers and Taylor Hicks Elementary School Principal Kelsey Secor.

“She can be silly and goofy with them, but also serious and fun,” Secor related, calling Soifer friendly, upbeat and approachable.

“The best thing a more seasoned teacher can tell a newer teacher is that they too struggle with something,” Soifer said. “I’m going to take my time and have fun with my kids, and it’ll be fine. I also remind new teachers to think about school from the student’s perspective.”

Parents, administrators, and teachers – even experienced ones like Soifer – have struggled to learn new computer technology and maintain a consistent routine for students amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic. Prescott Unified School District’s distance learning and instructional coaches have been a great help.

PUSD students began this school year with distance learning, then went to two days per week in school, then four days a week in school, then back to distance learning, then back to school for two days and longer. Yet school during a pandemic is all kindergarteners know so far. When they came into the classroom for the first time, they didn’t recognize each other with masks on, Soifer related.

During times of distance learning, Soifer has found that it’s best to teach her 26 students in two separate daily blocks so she can interact with each of them more often. In between classes, she checks on her own 4th-grade daughter Leah’s progress and makes sure she has a solid plan for the day.

She relishes teaching children during what is perhaps their most formative year, the foundation for all the rest.

“You help them learn how to be individual learners, and how to think for themselves,” Soifer said. “They learn what school is all about from you. I tell them, ‘You’re the problem solver. Think about all your choices and what to do.’ By the end of the year, I have all these little individual people and I love it.”

She also enjoys the fact that she gets to watch them grow up for the rest of their school lives. Last year, her very first PUSD students graduated from high school. It was wonderful and hard at the same time because of the pandemic. For example, PUSD’s “Parade of Graduates” through their former elementary schools was canceled.

But Soifer doesn’t believe in ever telling any student that they’re “behind” – with or without a pandemic. They’re just on a different track.

“The first-grade team will pick up where we left off, and all these little gaps will get filled in,” Soifer said. “It’s all about attitude.”