(Photo Credit: Thinkstock)

(Photo Credit: Thinkstock)

This article is presented in partnership with CA Lottery.

Walking is one of the best exercises people of all ages can do. It not only boosts your cardio, it boosts your brain too. According to Pediatric Exercise Science, “physical activity and cognitive function in children aged 4-18 years improves a youth’s perceptual skills, intelligence, achievement, verbal skills, math skills, developmental level and academic readiness.”

So it’s no surprise that H. Allen Hight Elementary teacher Andrea Mitchell would be among the first educators to push for and implement an innovative program called the Walking Classroom.


A Curriculum With A Twist

Mitchell’s fifth grade students in the Natomas Unified School District know how well light exercise and academics work together. Armed with earbuds and recorded lessons, students have marched out of the classroom and into the open air on numerous occasions.

But Mitchell’s class walks are not just a change of scenery; she plans them for the purpose of learning. Students are also given age-appropriate lessons which they must demonstrate they’ve learned by passing a classroom test. Since its implementation, it has proven to be successful.

Creativity, care and thinking outside the box are among the many reasons why Mitchell is an award-winning teacher. Her students love her not only because they have fun learning in her outdoor classroom, but because they know she really cares about them. While some teachers may not necessarily like particularly difficult and struggling students, it’s these students Mitchell seeks out. It’s for this reason that Mitchell is a 20-year veteran educator who’s not only been named Teacher of the Year at H. Allen Hight Elementary but also Teacher of the Year at Jefferson Elementary School in 2012.


Caring Matters

No matter the age or the subject, every great teacher possesses a belief that every child can learn and every child can succeed. It is this belief that is transferred to Mitchell’s students, and it almost always results in success. Her bold confidence in students actually changes them.

“I really do believe that every kid is capable of learning and that if they have their own selves in the way, there’s a way to get around it. I haven’t found a kid that I haven’t been able to help yet” said Mitchell.

Educators who are successful with troubled youth are often those who are calm in spirit, yet sturdy in discipline. This is an exact description of Mitchell.

She shared the story of her early teaching years, when she made a student apologize in front of the entire class for a violent outburst. For this student, apologizing was a new experience, something he had never done before. For Mitchell to be able to speak to this student, turn his attitude around and cause him to trust her was no easy feat. She managed to get the student to let go of the fear that was driving him to such a violent place; a gift that Mitchell has never taken for granted.

“That’s when I felt like I had the power to change kids,” she said when reflecting over the situation.

There is a need for more educators like Mitchell, who understand both the need for academic innovation and the need to help young people believe in their own potential.


Nicole Bailey-Covin is a public school education writer for Examiner.com.