Maria Nielsen, the principal at Millville Elementary, says she works hard to make sure her school is a place where kids like to be.

Third-grader Melissa Berry says she loves how Mrs. Nielsen "always comes in during lunch to talk to us." Another third-grader in the Cache County school, Taylor Jorgensen, said Nielsen makes birthdays special because she gives out "a card and a shiny new pencil."

Growing up, Nielsen saw how much her father loved working as an educator in the Cache County School District and decided to follow in his footsteps. She taught for 14 years before becoming an administrator 11 years ago.

"Teaching is my passion," Nielsen said, "being able to see into those kid's souls and being able to help them to discover themselves, and grow into the person that they are is so rewarding."

As an administrator, Nielsen said she works hard to center her school around the children.

"I want to be that kind of principal that was really involved with them and working really hard on their behalf so that their school is positive," Nielsen said.

How do you keep your students on track and learning despite today's challenges such as bullying, gang violence and digital distractions?

The Cache Valley school district does not allow the students to bring any digital devices into elementary schools. But, like every school, Millville Elementary is not immune to bullying. Nielsen's daughter has begun a project called "The Buddy Box."

"That's an anonymous reporting box that students can put notes in when they have a friend or themselves that's having a problem," Nielsen said.

— Elise Bassett