There’s a feeling students and faculty get when they walk into Walter J. Mitchell Elementary School.
“When you come to Mitchell, you don’t leave Mitchell,” said Roberta Bragunier, a special education teacher at the La Plata school for 35 years.
Molly Galeano, an eight-year veteran kindergarten teacher who has been at Mitchell for six, was a student at the school in third through fifth grades. Landing at Mitchell felt welcome and familiar.
“I felt very comfortable here,” Galeano said. “Everybody says, ‘Once you’re at Mitchell, you never leave.’ As a kid I felt this was a close knit community, and I have that same exact feeling now.”
Mitchell is celebrating its 50th anniversary noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15 with the opening of a time capsule, songs from the past five decades, guest speakers and tours of the school.
The school is named after Walter Jenifer Mitchell, a lawyer, newspaper man and president of the Maryland Senate who helped start County Trust Co., now part of Bank of America. While in office, Mitchell worked to pass a bill authorizing the building of Charles County high schools. Before the bill was passed, there were no high schools in Charles County. After the bill’s passage, Glasva, Nanjemoy, Pomonkey and La Plata high schools were built.
A resource teacher at Mitchell, Jennifer Elder remembers walking to the school as a student. It wasn’t that long a trek — just over the fields between Milton M. Somers Middle School, where her mother, Janice Elder, worked as the principal’s secretary, to Mitchell where Elder attended for first through third grades.
“I walked from Somers, every day through the field, before and after school,” said Elder, who has been teaching for 17 years and is in her first year at Mitchell. Like Galeano, it was like returning home. “It smells the exact same,” Elder said. “It’s not bad … but you spend three years in the same place and it sticks with you.”
The layout is the same, too. While new people might get lost in the school that is laid out in pods that extend from the main hall, veterans of the school find navigating the halls a cinch.
“People say ‘That school is so confusing.’ No, it’s not,” Galeano said.
“You walk down a hall, make a turn at the wall,” Elder said. “No matter which way I turn I’m going to end up in a classroom.”
Some of the teachers at Mitchell are those who taught Elder and Galeano.
Bragunier was one of Galeano’s teachers. The school’s current gym teacher, Marty Margolis, was in his first year of student teaching when she was in fifth grade. Elder was walking around Mitchell at the start of the school year when a teacher recognized her as one of her former students. “It’s good that she remembered me, but why?” Elder laughed.
And while Elder took her time deciding to become a teacher — she decided to go into education in her third year of college — Galeano knew she wanted to be a kindergarten teacher since she was in kindergarten. The teachers at Mitchell only stoked her interest in becoming a teacher.
The families also make Mitchell a close knit community.
“Everyone wants to work as one,” Galeano said. “The parents, teachers, administrators … we’re all here for the kids. Everybody is on the same page.”
“When I got the job at Mitchell everyone said ‘You’re so lucky. Those families are so great,’” Elder said. “We have something good going on here.”
Charles County Public Schools provides 26,400 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.
The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Dr. Patricia Vaira, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Pamela K. Murphy, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.