This month’s “Faculty Friday” spotlight introduces a face familiar to many of our Palm Beach Day Academy Upper Campus students and parents, Mrs. Erin Mitchell. Because she consistently takes experiential learning to another level, you are more likely to catch Mrs. Mitchell outside “in the wild” than inside the four walls of 241 Seaview Avenue.
In addition to serving as the Science Department Chair, Mitchell teaches 6th Grade Science, 8th Grade Pre-Chemistry, and 9th Grade Biology. She is also Co-Coordinator of PBDA’s Bulldog Outreach Program. In 2018, Mitchell was named FAU Pine Jog’s 2018 Environmental Educator of the Year.
Stay tuned in February for the next Faculty Friday spotlight!
Erin Mitchell, Science Department Chair at PBDA
1. Tell us about yourself, Mrs. Mitchell! What initially brought you to Palm Beach?
I was born and raised right here in Palm Beach County, so I am a Florida native. I grew up in Wellington and had a lot of natural areas to explore before it was really developed. I graduated from Wellington High and then went on to receive my Bachelors at FAU and Masters at Nova University. I am currently in candidacy for my Ph.D in Curriculum and Instruction, with an emphasis in Environmental Education, at FAU and am hoping to graduate this spring!
2. What were you doing prior to PBDA, and what initially drew you to the school? Why did you choose to teach at an independent school?
I have been taking care of kids my whole life without even realizing it. I helped raise my younger sister and nearly every position that I have held has been related to children: teaching, nannying, babysitting, tutoring, etc. During my undergrad, I was a teacher assistant at Flagler Montessori Pre-School and it was my time there, along with my education and other experiences, that really helped me learn how to be an effective teacher. At that time, I had a few side jobs helping families, many of which ended up attending Palm Beach Day Academy. While I went on to teach at Belvedere Elementary for three years, I was always in and out of PBDA with the families I was working with. Through this, I got to know some of the faculty and administrators and all of a sudden, I was working at PBDA. I am truly appreciative and fortunate to be where I am at PBDA.
3. What has been your favorite aspect of working in the Science department on the Upper Campus?
I love connecting with the students and “playing” with a purpose. I really believe that learning about the sciences (and all subjects!) and our environment is so important. Helping the students become aware, knowledgeable and ready to take action about issues that affect our lives is so meaningful to me. At PBDA, students have the chance to learn through many different avenues while always tying what they are doing back to the real world. Getting to know the students and understanding how they learn is pretty amazing. What is even more remarkable is seeing their growth and how they work with each other and the community. If you give the kids a little taste of what they can do and guide them while they are pursuing their interests, it is truly remarkable what will unfold. They teach me more than I teach them.
4. You’ve also been working more closely with the Lower Campus students this year to expose them to some of the things you are doing on Upper. Why did you feel it was so important to share these learnings with our younger Bulldogs?
It’s so important to continue to build upon our programs from grade to grade and to be as connected as we can be. Having PBDA’s younger students on the Lower Campus involved with outside organizations like FAU Pine Jog and the Reef Institute is just as important as it is with the older students. The younger students will surprise you with their amazing capabilities and eagerness – it is really fun to work with them. Building knowledge about the environment, and really anything, shouldn’t be a one time deal.
5. You are actively working to instill among our students both an appreciation for our environment and empowerment to act to save it. Why is this cause so important to you?
I have always loved the outdoors, plants and animals. I became aware and passionate about environmental issues when I was a kid where I was lucky enough to have rural areas to play in. One memory I have from high school was helping to plant mangroves at Munyon Island for their restoration project. Now, I take our 8th graders to monitor that same project. I feel so proud that I was a part of the beginning of the project.
I could go on forever about the importance of getting children outdoors and exposed to issues so that they then can then decide for themselves if and how they can make a difference. I really believe that we just need to understand the connection we have with nature, and how that is connected to our health and economy.
6. This year, you took the lead on PBDA’s Coral Project. What are your goals for the project?
We will apply subject areas that we are learning about to the Coral Project so that the students get a real-world perspective on what they are learning in the classroom. Students will conduct an inquiry-based project to learn more about our different ecosystems and how to care for our environment. Ultimately, students need to understand the interdependence of all of our habitats (the Everglades watershed, mangroves, coral, etc.) and how we must take action to help with their preservation. Student-led initiatives are crucial, especially since the students are way more creative than I am!
7. Tell us a little bit about some of the partnerships and guest speakers you have brought to PBDA.
FAU Pine Jog will be working with Grades K-9 this year with a hands-on focus on Florida’s environment.
The Reef Institute has been working with us for the past three years, and they are now helping with the Coral Project and our aquariums. They visit twice per month for classroom lessons on both campuses.
Community Greening presented to our students the importance of trees and “food forests.” We then had 14 students and their families volunteer to plant trees in our community’s Henrietta Bridge area. Down the road, students will be able to go to the first food forest in West Palm Beach and participate in more planting opportunities.
MANG, which plants a mangrove for each MANG product that is purchased, has shared with us the importance of mangroves in our ecosystem. We will be taking students to their nursery to do volunteer work, and the 8th and 9th graders will have the opportunity to plant mangroves at Tarpon Cove. We are also growing mangroves in our lab to donate to MANG.
8. You are in the final leg of gaining your Ph.D. What an incredible feat! How do you manage to juggle it all?
My husband and the PBDA community have been really supportive. I love teaching and being with the kids which gives me the motivation to push through. I try to chunk everything out and not get overwhelmed about everything all at once. I was once told to tackle things “Bird by Bird”.
9. What is your favorite PBDA tradition, and why?
Field Day. I love sports, especially soccer!
10. When you’re not in the classroom, we can find you…
Either on our boat, “Runnin’ Erin’s”, or somewhere else outside.
11. Tell us a fun fact about you!
I am left-handed and played soccer all of my life.
12. Where is your favorite travel destination and why?
St. John in the US Virgin Islands. My husband Matt and I went there for vacation and ended up getting engaged on the island. We fell in love with it – the people, the culture, the donkeys, snorkeling among the coral, the sea turtles, I could go on. It’s also fascinating to me that 90% of the island is preserved. We returned the following year to get married at a small villa overlooking Coral Bay with a small group of our best friends (including 4th Grade teacher Ellie Colpitts). I couldn’t have asked for a better wedding!
13. What is your guilty pleasure?
14. Do you have any pet peeves?