East Bay kindergarten student, teacher reunite as educators 20 years later at same school

PLEASANTON — It’s been more than 20 years since Megan Soldati sat in her kindergarten teacher’s class, her hand shooting to the sky during reading time.

Today, Soldati is standing in front of her own students reading to them at the same school, where her former teacher and mentor, Heidi Deeringhoff, is now the school’s principal.

It’s come full circle that the two women are at the same school, Fairlands Elementary in Pleasanton, both in their first years at their new jobs — Soldati teaching kindergarten for the first time, and Deeringhoff leading the school as her first year as principal.

Soldati was in Deeringhoff’s kindergarten class at Lydiksen Elementary in the district in 1998, early on in Deeringhoff’s career. Now, the women are colleagues.

Soldati is the same age that Deeringhoff was when she first started teaching at the Pleasanton Unified School District 24 years ago. Deeringhoff went on to teach other grade levels, even consulted for the district for a bit, was an early intervention online coach, and in the past two years was a vice principal at both Fairlands and Mohr elementary schools.

The two kept in touch through the last 20 years — Soldati would come and visit her former teacher’s classrooms, at times even volunteering during her high school or college breaks.

Although Soldati always knew her life would lead her to teaching, she took a different route after graduating from college: She first went to the private sector, working for a company doing events and programming.

Then, suddenly, she knew it was time to go where her heart was leading her for most of her life — teaching.

“I thought ‘Now I’m ready for my own classroom, I’m ready for my own kiddos.’ ” Soldati said in an interview Friday.

Although it’s Soldati’s first teaching job at Fairlands, Deeringhoff said of her now-colleague that it doesn’t seem like it at all.

“I felt like she was always destined to be a teacher,” she said.  “I’m so glad that we have people like Megan going into education that want to make a difference and realize the importance of connecting with her students.”

In her application for her teaching credential, Soldati wrote about the impact her beloved kindergarten teacher had on her.

“In my first year here, I hope I can be to one of my students what Ms. Deeringhoff was to me. That would be incredible,” Soldati said.

It’s clear the two have had an impact on each other’s lives. In a joint interview over the phone, Deeringhoff said that both of them were tearing up at the comment.

Soldati has even used her own experience in Deeringhoff’s kindergarten class as inspiration for her own students during her first year of teaching. She will have her students this year work on “book boxes” — decorated shoeboxes that will eventually store the children’s own book that they will write and create their own story for in class. Soldati still has her own book box she made in Deeringhoff’s class — her name written in her kindergarten writing, some letters even backwards.

“I wanted to make sure I did this with my students,” Soldati said.

Her class of kiddos also will have “older buddies” — when a kindergartener is paired with an older student in third or fourth grade to help form student-to-student relationships. They’ll do art projects together, and the older students will have reading time with the kindergarteners.

Deeringhoff said the older students will help the younger ones transition to first grade, showing them things such as where the big playground is and where to eat lunch.

When asked what advice Deeringhoff would give to Soldati during her first year of teaching, Deeringhoff gave her a compliment.

“I think one of Megan’s strengths, is that she’s very reflective and mindful of her students,” the principal said. “If she continues to connect with her students … her students will always feel important, no matter what grade she’s (teaching) at.”