Unique techniques, compassion define DM psychology teacher as ‘an inspiration’


Courtesy of Ms. Onofry

She’s a Lumberjack and she’s OK: Ms. Onofry celebrates her masters degree in psychology from Northern Arizona University. “My program was special because it had an emphasis in teaching psychology specifically, which is a really unique program,” she said. “Not a lot of schools offer those; [it was] really perfect for what I wanted to do.”

Shearel Cohen, Staff writer

The pattering of footsteps. The warm but groggy greetings exchanged between nearby students and teachers. The smell of morning coffee. And the loud music played far too early in the morning from Mr. Blankstein’s neighboring classroom. 

Like any other class, the phones go in the caddy and the students rush to the seats they’ve been sitting in all year just as the bell rings and class begins. 

But students quickly learn that Ms. Onofry’s Intro to Sociology and Psychology class is different than any they’ve taken as they curious and multifaceted topics. From case studies about drugged monkeys to memory and personality tests, Ms. Onofry never fails to deliver her information in an interesting and interactive way.

“Ms.Onofry genuinely cares about her students and is invested in each and every one of our educations,” wrote Sasha Harikumar, one of many students who nominated Ms. Onofry for a Wolf of Distinction Award.

‘A blessing in disguise’

After graduating from NAU in 2015 with a Masters in psychological Sciences, Ms. Onofry set out to begin her career in education.

“I actually went to Pinnacle High School,” she said, “which is 15-20 minutes away from Desert Mountain.”  

Luckily, Ms. Onofry could check all the requirements off her list as she would be close to her family, work in a familiar area, and do what she loved. 

Better yet?

“I applied and got the job that day,” said Ms. Onofry, who arrived at DM in 2017.

Establishing any career isn’t easy though, and there are always rough patches, Ms. Onofry said.

“My first year was really difficult,” she said “and that’s I think a common trend for a lot of first-year teachers.”

Fortunately, Ms. Onofry found the meaning in teaching and her motivation to continue despite her difficulties.

“Having students who wanted to learn, who were positive, and enthusiastic,” she said, “definitely made things a lot easier for me as the years went on.”

Who doesn’t love stickers?

It’s the day before a long awaited test–review day. Rather than a tedious drilling of question after question of the study guide handed out the week before, Ms. Onofry chooses a different strategy: a tough and grueling battle between 6 table groups. 

The name of the game? Jeopardy. 

The question is suddenly flashed on the screen and students frantically scramble to decipher the answer. Some rely on prior knowledge. Some sneak a peek at the study guide tucked in their bags. And others–having clearly given up, draw pictures on their group’s white boards.

Time flies by and before anyone knows it, the final round approaches. All bets are on as students barter their remaining points in an effort to win the game. 

Every group protects their boards like Gollum protects his ring in Lord of The Rings. The whiteboards–some of which have incomplete answers–are discreetly handed to Ms. Onofry who then tallies everyone’s points. The winner is announced but no one is shocked; everyone knew that group three was going to win. 

And their prize? Who doesn’t love stickers?

A bubbly personality: Ms. Onofry, blowing bubbles at the camera, says that her psychology classes are not necessarily easy. “I constantly hear from my AP students that like they were surprised with how challenging the class was,” Ms. Onofry says. “But they feel like it was a rewarding experience; and then with my intro students, it can spark interest and potentially lead towards that path of taking AP later on.” (Courtesy of Ms. Onofry)

‘An exceptional teacher’

And her students say that activities like this have defined Ms. Onofry as “an inspiration”–in and out of the classroom. 

“it was for sure one of my favorite classes last year,” said senior Eli Bizon. “ In fact it was her class that has inspired me to study psychology at the university level.” 

Junior Ruth Saake said Ms. Onofry is “always there for her students [and is] willing to help us. 

“[Ms. Onofry] is always doing her best to put a smile on our faces,” said Saake, who, along with Bizon, also nominated Ms. Onofry for a Wolf of Distinction Award. 

As a psychology teacher, Ms. Onofry imparts wisdom and knowledge on not only her students, but also her fellow teachers. 

“I hadn’t taught psychology in about 10 years (until this year),” said Mr. Spatz, a social studies teacher at DM. “She has shared any ideas, activities, and knowledge that helped me prepare for this semester.”

She also sets a great example at DM. In some ways, she spreads kindness and consistently helps others. 

“Ms. Onofry and I began working at DM at the same time,” said Mrs. Edmonds, a social studies teacher and colleague of Onofry’s, “she was a life saver during our technology seminars and helped me set up my computer, email, gradebook, and class website.”

And in other ways, Ms. Onofry has simply put on a smile and demonstrated patience when it was needed. 

“I have a loud voice and have noticed that sometimes she is forced to close her door,” said Mr. Blankstein, a classroom neighbor of Ms. Onofry’s, “I have apologized several times, but she sweetly and with a smile says it is not a problem.”

Furthermore, Ms. Onofry creates an enjoyable environment for her students that nurtures growth, even garnering admiration of other teachers.

“I love visiting Ms. Onofry’s classroom,” said Ms. Edmonds “Her assignments are creative and engaging and it is clear her students are learning a lot.” 

Ms. Onofry has been called hardworking, passionate, and knowledgeable–which translates well into her work and is not hard for anyone to see. 

“She is an exceptional teacher.” said Mr. Blankstein “She knows her material well and is able to explain it clearly and thoroughly through her student centered class discussion.”

There’s something out there for everyone. You just gotta find it.

— Ms. Onofry

Making the best of a bad situation

The field of psychology itself demands certain qualities that Ms. Onofry knows well. While she finds that teaching psychology typically requires internal motivation and a lot of patience, other careers within the field are different. 

“If you wanted to go more into a therapy route with it,” she said “definitely empathy… is something that is very important,” 

Over time, Ms. Onofry’s experiences with both teaching and psychology have helped her grow as an individual. She describes these experiences as having granted her patience, which she recalled lacking in her younger years. 

During this time, distance learning has taken its toll on many teachers who enjoy seeing their students each day but like us, Ms. Onofry has made the best of a bad situation.

“I can’t be in the classroom with my students,” she said “that’s been a negative but also sort of a blessing in disguise.” 

Of course, everyone has received a much-needed and, quite frankly, excessive break from socializing; while the distance has been a negative, the positive aspect is best expressed by author Tina Reber, who wrote: “You don’t really know how much you miss someone until it’s gone.”

“I really miss and value my time at school,” Ms. Onofry said “so I think people will be excited when we get back.”

Students and colleagues say that Ms. Onofry embodies DM’s spirit and values as she continues to inspire greatness within her students. She recommends that students pursue their interests or trying new activities–such as joining her psychology class–to discover a new passion.   

“There are so many career options out there that you might not know about,” she said, “so researching your interests can really help you find something that you never expected.”

Her advice? Explore your options.

“There’s something out there for everyone,” she said. “you just gotta find it.”