Kindergarten teacher Melanie Coffelt sits in her new classroom at Shining Stars Academy, which is located underneath the Park City Community Church off
Kindergarten teacher Melanie Coffelt sits in her new classroom at Shining Stars Academy, which is located underneath the Park City Community Church off State Road 224. Christopher Reeves/Park Record. (Christopher Reeves)
Melanie Coffelt sat in one of the yellow pre-school chairs surrounding a round, wooden table. "It's kind of hard to sit in these tiny chairs, but I'm used to it now," she said with a smile.

A bright-colored play mat sat next to the table in the middle of the room bordered with walls covered in yellow, green, blue and red posters. Coffelt is a kindergarten teacher, and this is her first year teaching at Shining Stars Academy, a private school for pre-kindergarten students ages three to five and kindergarten students ages five and six.

Coffelt graduated from the University of Wyoming, located in Laramie, with a bachelor's degree in elementary education. She went on to receive her Master's in elementary reading from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

"My dad is a high school teacher, so I've always been around teaching," Coffelt said. "I was either going to be a teacher or a pediatrician, but either way I was going to be working with children."

There was a childcare occupations class available at Coffelt's high school, which was right up her alley. After working in the toddler room and the pre-school, she decided it would be a better fit for her to work with children when they are happy.

Coffelt got to see children grow through all three childcare occupations class programs she participated in while in high school, so going into college, she knew exactly what she wanted to do: teach children.

She began her kindergarten-teaching career in Colorado and stayed there for 13 years with her husband and two young sons. They then moved to California for a change, and Coffelt taught kindergarten in Mill Valley and Tiburon for two years.

The family decided to move to Park City in order to be closer to family: her parents still live in Colorado and her father-in-law lives in Moab. Her husband is employed by Apple and works in technology with Utah and Nevada schools, so they also needed to live close to an airport.

This is Coffelt's first year working at a private school, and she said that the main difference is that she has the freedom to explore new ways to teach. That includes her push for technology in the classroom and said the board has been very supportive.

The thing that remains the same in both public and private schools, she said, is her students' enthusiasm.

"Children are children," Coffelt said. "They are excited and happy to be with each other all day."

The greatest reward she receives from teaching kindergarten, she said, is when her students grow up and return to the classroom to remember the things that they did when they were younger.

She said that sometimes her alumni will ask her if she remembers a particular student always playing in the lab, because that student is now going to into veterinary medicine in college. Things like that, Coffelt said, are things she likes to share with her students when they grow up.

Her goal every year is make her students unafraid to take risks and make mistakes. She wants them to become excited about learning and moving on to first grade. The challenge, however, is meeting each child at their own level.

"Every student is in a different place and goes at a different pace when it comes to learning," Coffelt said. "Kindergarten is my passion, so I do my best to make sure every child learns and grows in my classroom."

Now that her oldest son is entering middle school next year, Coffelt said that she and her husband told him that this would be their last move. She said she is grateful to have moved to Park City and feels fortunate to have found a job doing what she loves.

"I really enjoy it here at Shining Stars, because there is such high parental involvement," Coffelt said. "I get to not only teach kids but their parents as well; they are their children's first advocate, so I have 15 advocates happy to be involved."