Henrico’s Top Teachers – Maria Mitchell

Maria Mitchell pulls no punches when she talks to parents of the seventh-graders who take her physical science course at Moody Middle School.

"I tell parents I am one of the hardest teachers at Moody," she said, matter-of-factly.

The hundreds of students who have taken her courses during the past 18 years probably wouldn't disagree – and yet, they heap praise upon her just the same.

"She always works with her students to make sure that we 100 percent understand the challenging topics she teaches to us," one student wrote in a nomination letter. "Also, she makes learning hands on and fun for us."


Mitchell, a native of the Philippines who came to the United States after marrying her husband, a former colonel in the U.S. Air Force, has found a way to get students excited about science – no small feat at the middle school level.


"She goes beyond anything that is expected of her," wrote another student, "from making ice cream in class to demonstrate the temperature of liquid nitrogen to making our own musical instruments to represent how we manipulate sound."

When she was hired at Moody in 1999, she recalled asking administrators what made the school and its International Baccalaureate program unique from other similar programs. Unsatisfied with the answer, she set out to make the science program unique by implementing research projects in her courses.

This year, the school created a separate course specifically for such projects.

Mitchell's approach to teaching science – much like her personality – is straightforward.

"You learn science by doing science," she said.

So, her students "do." Nearly 60 of them are presenting research projects at a Virginia Junior Academy of Science research symposium and annual meeting at VCU this week – an event mostly populated otherwise by high school students from throughout the state.

Mitchell keeps long hours at the school, hosting study sessions, offering afterschool help, reviewing papers and projects multiple times for any students who seek her help. She provides her students with dozens of grading opportunities throughout the course, so that they don't suffer from one bad test or project.


"I get emails from parents saying that 'My child hated science but then took your class and now he loves it,'" Mitchell said.

"Although she may be known as a hard teacher," one parent wrote of Mitchell, "in the long run, all of her students thank her for the experience as she truly pushes her students to retain and understand knowledge, better assisting them in proceeding to their future easily and successfully."

"Mrs. Mitchell has impacted my daughter tremendously," another parent wrote. "She teaches her students that the more you learn about science, the more fascinating the world around you becomes. Mrs. Mitchell tirelessly continues to encourage until her students succeed. She has truly made a difference in my daughter’s life."

Mitchell uses Facebook to keep tabs on many former students as they spread out across the country and begin their own careers in science. But when her current students try to friend her on the social media site, she isn't having it.

"I say, 'No, I don't want to be your friend – I'm still your teacher,'" she said with a chuckle. "They say I'm mean."

Though she's been at Moody for nearly two decades now, Mitchell is always adapting her class to keep it fresh and relevant for a new wave of students.

"It's okay to teach for 25 years, but don't teach the same thing 25 times – things change, so you have to change too," Mitchell said.
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Great Strides, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s largest national fundraising event, will start at 10 a.m. in Innsbrook’s North Shore Commons. This family-friendly event features a healthy 5k walk, children’s activities, food and other festivities. The funds raised from Great Strides helps provide people with CF the opportunity to lead full, productive lives by funding research and drug development, promoting individualized treatment and ensuring access to high-quality, specialized care. For details, visit http://tinyurl.com/GreatStridesRichmond. Full text

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