Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Spotlight: Rejily Soriano (NV '22)

March 28, 2023

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Rejily Soriano (NV ’22) wants her students to remember the milestones they tackled in kindergarten, and the hard work behind their success: “If they apply that lesson throughout their life, they can achieve anything.” Lowell Milken presented her with a Nevada Milken Award at West Wendover Elementary on February 8, 2023.

Milken Family Foundation: What do you like about working with elementary students?

Rejily Soriano (NV ’22): They are so forgiving of our shortcomings. If I make a mistake or am short on patience they forgive me quickly, accept my apology, and do not hold a grudge. My students want to build relationships, and I don’t usually feel like there are obstacles in the way of becoming someone they trust. I love watching them grasp new concepts and seeing their joy when they achieve something that might have been hard in the beginning. Overall, I feel like elementary schoolers have many good qualities that most adults work to improve. My students are a great example of what it looks like to be a good human.

MFF: What are some of the strategies you use to build literacy skills with your young learners?

Rejily: I use technology to reinforce the skills being taught, with different manipulatives to allow students to build words, or tap sounds versus only writing materials. I practice a lot of deep-thinking questions and try to always make connections to prior learning. I also try to remind them why we’re learning these skills and how they can help us in the future.

1000w WWES Rejily Soriano Lowell Milken classroom

MFF: How did you end up teaching?

Rejily: I landed in education after I was offered a job as a preschool teacher for the community action program in my city. I had been a dental assistant for five years and my favorite patients were the young children, so I thought the idea of teaching preschool sounded fun. From there, I was given an opportunity to work for AmeriCorps at the high school I graduated from. After one year with AmeriCorps I was offered a job teaching kindergarten. Because of my experience in pre-K, I knew I would enjoy teaching kindergarten.

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MFF: How did your first year in the classroom go?

Rejily: It is quite a blur! I was offered the job sometime in mid-August and began a week later. I did not have my degree or license yet, and I remember feeling underprepared and underqualified. I spent so many weekends preparing materials and studying lesson plans to try to ensure I was prepared and feel like I was doing my students justice. I remember feeling such a mixture of emotions — it was overwhelming and stressful, but at the same time my students were so great that I actually loved being their teacher.

My cousin was hired the same year as I was, and she was in the exact same situation. It helped to be able to rely on her and to have someone who could relate so closely to many of the issues I was experiencing. She helped me gain confidence in myself as a teacher, and it was very nice to have a buddy to finish up my bachelor’s degree with. The other teachers in kindergarten also helped whenever I needed them. And my administrators helped me become more confident and pointed out any good thing they saw me do to encourage me to keep going.

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MFF: Tell us about your role as the lead teacher for kindergarten.

Rejily: I work closely with administration to solve problems that are common among all four kindergarten classes. I arrange meetings with my team each week to discuss best practices, concerns and curriculum pacing. We brainstorm ideas for any difficult situations that arise throughout the course of the year. I also participate in training, then take information back to my team and help them implement the new strategies, programs or ideas.

MFF: Who are your role models?

Rejily: Throughout my journey in school, I had the opportunity to know many amazing educators. A few stand out: Mrs. Keith, for helping to nurture my love for reading. Mr. Norris, for being kind and helping me enjoy school again after a hard year in third grade. Mrs. Bushman, for her dedication to every single student who entered her classroom. And most recently Mrs. Bethany Mathis, for showing me that great educators help you feel seen and empowered!

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MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?

Rejily: I felt complete shock and disbelief. Our entire staff and student body were made to believe that the assembly would celebrate the success of our intervention program. I fully believed this because I have witnessed the amazing benefits of our small, targeted and intentional approach.

Mr. [Lowell] Milken began talking about an individual who would be receiving an award, and my mind immediately jumped to different names and individuals who would be so deserving. I just remember sitting in the audience for an extra long time thinking, “I have to be dreaming!” Even after seeing my name on the check, I still couldn’t believe it was real. “Surprised” is an understatement. And every time I watch the video of my notification, I am flooded with the same emotions.

MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?

Rejily: With excitement and joy! It was so nice to see how happy they were for me. Many of them came back and told me they had told their families about it, and I had so many parents reach out to tell me how proud their children were that their teacher won “the best teacher award.” A lot of the older students who were not in my class are more interested in the money aspect — they ask if I’m rich now. It’s been fun to get to know more students by talking about the event and the Award.

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MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?

Rejily: At this stage in my life and career, the best way to describe success for me is being happy. It’s been my goal for a while to have harmony and balance in my career and with my family life, and I finally feel like I am there. For my students, success could be defined as how well-prepared they are for their future. A successful student is ready to continue learning, has a strong work ethic, has learned self-reflection and self-regulation, has built some stamina, and is ready to move up while also being a good friend and member of the school community.

MFF: What do you hope students remember from their time with you?

Rejily: How much I believe in their ability to succeed in whatever they choose to put their minds to. I hope they never forget that with hard work and a lot of practice, we turned some things that seemed impossible into big accomplishments. If they apply that lesson throughout their life, they can achieve anything. And I hope they remember that I will always be cheering for them.

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