Omaha Westside's Mitchell to receive McAuliffe Award from UNL

Omaha Westside's Mitchell to receive McAuliffe Award from UNL

19 Feb 2014    

Creativity and inspiration in the classroom has earned Omaha Westside Community Schools fifth grade teacher Pam Mitchell the Christa McAuliffe Prize for Courage and Excellence in Education.

The College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln presents the annual award to a teacher who exemplifies the character of Christa McAuliffe, an educator who died in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster. Mitchell will be recognized at a banquet March 9 in Lincoln.

Mitchell’s keen desire to make connections with her students is what allows her to make the difference in their lives. “I observe their successes and their struggles,” she says. “I want to know what inspires them, what frustrates them, what causes anxiety, and what makes them happy to be at school.”

Every lesson and activity in Mitchell’s classroom at Paddock Road Elementary is an opportunity for students to learn and grow. She has created a safety net that allows her students to feel comfortable taking risks. Mitchell is also constantly refreshing her curriculum and teaching methods because she understands that students evolve, just like the information they are being taught. 

Over her 23 years of teaching, Mitchell has experimented with different ways to motivate and empower students. Her investment in students expands beyond the learner to impact peers, parents and grandparents. She has received hundreds of notes expressing gratitude for her devotion to each and every student.

“She instructs in a way that captures the interest of the most reluctant of students,” says Paddock Road Elementary Principal Michelle Patterson, “because she earns their trust and believes in them. Pam is truly a master of her profession.”

 “The dedication I feel towards this profession is the driving force behind all I do,” Mitchell said, which has led her to participate in many school district committees and help develop districtwide curriculum. 

Mitchell received here bachelor’s degree in home economics from UNL and a master’s of education in elementary education from Auburn University. Her career has led to elementary teaching positions in Alabama, Illinois, and since 1994, at Paddock Road Elementary in Omaha.

Teachers recognized with the McAuliffe prize go beyond excellence by showing courage. Courage can be displayed in many different ways, but according to award creator Gregg Wright, associate professor at UNL's Center on Children, Family and the Law, the common denominator among all recipients is the lasting and positive effect they have had on their students and on their peers. 

Mitchell will receive a $1,000 stipend and a plaque at the March 9 banquet in her honor. Her school receives a $500 award to help support important school activities.

The award is made possible by gifts and contributions. Union Bank is providing generous support for this year’s prize. The Lincoln Journal Star newspaper provided initial support by donating the proceeds of the sale of a drawing created by cartoonist Paul Fell in the memory of McAuliffe. Other contributors include the Flavel Wright family, Rocke Huntington, State Farm Insurance, the Nebraska State Education Association, UNL College of Education and Human Sciences, Don Spinar of RBC Wealth Management, and Mildred and Melvin Mobley.

Nomination information and additional details about the Christa McAuliffe Prize for Courage and Excellence in Education are available at

College of Education and Human Sciences
Teaching, Learning & Teacher Education