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Mitchell Pace (BIS ‘06) was born and bred in Fluvanna County, Va., approximately 30 minutes from UVA. As he says, he never strayed too far, although it was never his master plan to stay in his home county.
He is now inspiring the next generation in Fluvanna, teaching courses like Hands-On History, where students learn on-site at historical places in Virginia, and Teacher Cadet, a class that helps to address the national teacher shortage, including in the Commonwealth. Pace’s roles have also included head swim coach and head coach of boys’ tennis at FCHS.
Most recently, he was named head football coach — a role his father held at FCHS, decades ago. Pace made time for an interview before his inaugural season as head football coach kicks into high gear and explained how relationship building, a skill he observed in his UVA professors, is the key to success.
Q. Why UVA’s Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies program?
A. I was an adult, who already owned a house, and wanted to be a determined student. Where better, right? It’s a university with international recognition, and it’s right here in my backyard. It was a great experience with world-class academics at my fingertips. The BIS program and the School of Continuing and Professional Studies were a perfect fit for where I was in my life at that time and with the credits I had already accrued [from Piedmont Virginia Community College and Radford University]. It was a blessing that it was available to me.
Q. What classes do you teach at FCHS?
A. Through the years, I’ve taught lots of different history classes — World History II and U.S. History — but now I’m the only AP Government teacher here at Fluvanna. I teach a couple of other classes that are a little different. I created a history elective called Hands-On History.
I was teaching U.S. History a few years ago, and I was in the Jeffersonian era. We live 12 miles from probably the best-known president’s home other than Mount Vernon. Just as a standard question, assuming everyone would raise their hand, I asked “How many people have been to Monticello?” Six kids out of 30 raised their hands. I thought, “That’s tragic. It’s right down the road.”
So, I started developing this idea to try to get them out of the classroom a little bit more to see these historic sites that are nearby and not let them just hear lectures from me but getting on site, put their hands on things and learning from other professionals out there in the world.
We talk about cultural sensitivity. Even with Fluvanna’s history, we talk about what enslaved people did here to build what these kids experience every day in their community. It’s important to teach.
I also teach Teacher Cadet. It’s an introduction to the profession of teaching so I get to work with the future educators.
Q. SPCS helped you finish your bachelor’s degree. You now prepare students to become teachers through your Teacher Cadet class. Tell me more about the program and this chain reaction as you see it.
A. At one point, I reached out to the entire county — the entire district — and asked, “How many people went through a Teacher Cadet program, even if it was somewhere else in another state?” This was a couple of years ago, but I think, for Fluvanna County Schools, it was 60-70 teachers who had gone through a Teacher Cadet program, and 40 of them had gone through the program here (at FCHS).
Just as there is a return in the Charlottesville community from UVA graduates, it’s the same thing for us. We are getting some of these teachers back, and that’s important to our success as a county.
Q. Teaching and coaching are roles where you can serve your community through your career. What are some of the ways this plays out in your life?
A. My wife and I have three children, and we do things in the community as a family, but I have found that the biggest impact I can make is through my job as a teacher and a coach. I can make connections with several hundreds of kids.
I’m trying to model for the kids I teach and coach to engage. I try to educate them on community connection if nothing else. I have kids who have turned 18 and will text me and say, “Coach Pace, I registered to vote” or “I voted for the first time” because, obviously, these are things I push in Government class. They’re proud to let me know they did their civic duty.
Q. What memories do you have from your time with UVA, and what did you learn that you use in your career now?
A. So many of the classes I took left lasting impressions but, really, it was the relationships. Of course, I remember the curriculum and things that I can use in the classroom, but it was the professors, the accessibility, the support system, the knowledge. The professors genuinely had passion for what they were teaching. You were part of a community that cared and professors that cared.
I take some of the stuff I learned and use it in my Teacher Cadet class about the connections you make with students. I’m lucky enough to have a large stadium seating classroom so you can fit 42 kids, but I still try to maintain that small environment of accessibility for my students.
As I’ve said before, it wasn’t some sort of grand plan, but I can put it all together now and see that there are layers to it. Seeing some of the relationships I built with my professors at SCPS through small, intimate classes and one-on-one conversations is something I’ve tried to carry over in the relationships with my students. It’s about those personal relationships that made the memories and impressions for me and that were so shaping in my experience of UVA.