Position: Second Grade Teacher
School: Northside Elementary School
School District: DeSoto ISD
City, State: DeSoto, Texas
About the Nominee: Megan Mitchell makes her students' best interest a top priority in every decision she makes. She builds relationships with everyone connected to her students, and she is constantly looking for new, innovative ways to inspire students and colleagues. Mrs. Mitchell finds ways to give students exposure to all the learning opportunities her community has to offer. Her community involvement began to evolve roughly six years ago, when the decision was made to minimize field trips for students. This was detrimental to students' development; more often than not, it was the only exposure these students would have to actually apply concepts or see concepts being applied in real world settings. Rather than being discouraged, Mrs. Mitchell looked at this as an opportunity to change who she was as a teacher and think outside the box to still be able to provide her students with these learning opportunities and experiences.
Mrs. Mitchell researched release waivers, looked for free activities going on in the community and purchased family passes to local museums and the Dallas Arboretum. With the support of her principal and family, she began weekend field trips with small groups of students. The benefits have been priceless, from the learning that occurs in her classroom, to the relationships built with students and parents, and to her development as an educator. Mrs. Mitchell has seen students go from having behavioral problems to getting up and turning the intercom off in her room during dismissal because she was still teaching and they did not want to leave. One year, when she moved to Houston, Ms. Mitchell had students and parents calling her asking her if she would return to take them back to the Dallas Opera in the spring. Over the years, her students have gone to the Perot Museum, Dallas Arboretum and multiple operas where students heard a story in a completely different language and were still able to explain the story elements and break down the plot during intermission. Her students have also attended the Trammell Crow Asian Art Collection, multiple cultural and art festivals, the Dallas Earth Day Expo, the Nasher Sculpture Museum, the Dallas Idea Fest, and the Kids Film Festival. During their trip to the Kids Film Festival, her students met Jason Garrett, Clarice Tinsley and a wonderfully famous musician named Lisa Loeb, who took a personal interest in the students by teaching them to play her guitar.
As a result of the students’ presence at these events, Northside Elementary has been able to organize guest speakers and events on campus. For the last two years, the school has been able to have the Opera in a Suitcase Program visit after school. In April 2016, a poet that opened for Russell Simmons at the Dallas Idea Fest came to speak to students for National Poetry Month. Last spring, Mrs. Mitchell was able to bring in a White House Intern to speak to students about his experience growing up in a south Dallas low income neighborhood. The intern attended Georgetown on full scholarship, which, in turn, allowed him to be able to sit down and watch the World Cup with President Obama.
Mrs. Mitchell recognizes the talents in her students, parents, colleagues and community members. She creates a cohesive environment in which students thrive. A perfect example of this is when she was asked to assist in the growth of our Accelerated Reading Program. She kicked off the program with the slogan “Readers are Leaders.” Each month, Mrs. Mitchell organizes an AR Party for students that achieve their reading goals. The first party she threw in fall 2014 had a total of 26 students meet their goals. The last party had a record 228 students meet their monthly AR reading goal. Because the numbers grew so rapidly, Mrs. Mitchell had to think outside the box again and involve the community to assist in supervising the AR parties. She turned to the Desoto High School Career and Technology Department for student volunteers to assist with the parties. The Criminal Justice Mock Trial Team has shown up every month since November 2015 to assist with the parties and encourage students to keep up the great work. By establishing this relationship with the high school students, Mrs. Mitchell was able to help the district by using these same students at the Elementary Fine Arts and Social Studies “It’s a Small World” program in December 2015 as volunteers.
Finally, Mrs. Mitchell's ability to turn adverse situations into catalysts for personal and professional development is the model that students need to see as proof that problem-solving and resilience is necessary to survive in today’s society. By creating students that have an intrinsic desire to learn and passion for knowledge, Mrs. Mitchell continues to impact the future of education.