“Music and technology have always been my biggest interests,” said Southeast Bulloch Middle School Band Director Joey Mitchell. “But it’s time for me to put as much effort into technology as I’ve always put into music.”
That’s how Mitchell explained his decision to transfer from the band room to the computer lab next school year after 11 years as the middle school’s music man.
In 12 short weeks, he will begin teaching six sections of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) exploratory courses, a need identified by the school. He’s so eager to begin, he is teaching a computer programming class this semester in addition to his band classes.
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around it,” said Matt Olsen, Mitchell’s musical counterpart at Southeast Bulloch High School. The pair were college roommates at Troy University and have remained best friends.
“We used to sit around in our apartment at college and joke about how incredible it would be to work together one day,” Mitchell said.
It was Olsen, already the band director at SEB, who picked up the telephone and called his friend about the open band director position at Southeast Bulloch Middle School all those years ago. That call put the pieces in place to build both schools’ bands into the renowned programs they are today.
“He’s built a ridiculously successful and amazing music program at the middle school that is a shining beacon of what a band program should be,” Olsen said.
That’s high praise from a director whose marching band, The Swarm, is highly acclaimed for its accomplishments.
“Before Joey came, I could expect only about 10 kids a year to move from middle school band to our program at the high school,” Olsen said. “With Joey’s work, I now average at least 30-40 new freshman band students each year.”
Mitchell has grown the program so much that his sixth grade band alone has 107 kids.
“I joke that he teaches more kids in his first two classes each day than most teachers teach all day,” Olsen said.
The middle school band has nearly 230 students and includes symphonic band and percussion ensembles. Mitchell directed them in their last performance on April 28.
“I feel bad about breaking up the team,” Mitchell said. “We’re pieces of a puzzle that fit. We each build up each other’s weaknesses.”
That puzzle includes not only Mitchell and Olsen, but their wives, Amanda and Carie, as well. Mitchell’s wife Amanda is the music teacher at Nevils Elementary School, and Carie is the brass instructor and marching technician for The Swarm. This fab four has collaborated to musically influence a large portion of the southeast district’s kids from their pre-kindergarten years through 12th grade.
“I feel that my wife has built up her students musically for me and my program, and then I build them up even further for Matt’s band program,” Mitchell said.
Parents appreciate the music niche at the schools.
“Our daughter Abi had Mr. Mitchell when he first arrived at SEBMS, and our son Ben also had him for band in middle school,” said Susan Sneathen, a parent and long-time supporter of both the middle and high school band programs. “We were always amazed at how well his (Mitchell) students performed at such early ages. He cares more for our kids than just teaching them the score on a sheet of music. He teaches them life and he teaches them to have a sense of humor about life.”
Life and making smart decisions is something Mitchell, a 17-year educator, likes to talk about with his students, peers and family. When he began sharing about his own life and his decision to pursue technology, the middle school’s administration and faculty were supportive of their former teacher of the year, an honor they bestowed upon him in 2012.
“I believe in supporting our faculty and staff’s lifelong learning opportunities,” said Dr. Torian White, principal of SEBMS.
Mitchell recently went back to school to obtain his six-year specialist’s degree in instructional technology from Kennesaw State. He earned a 4.0 and graduated with honors all while still fulfilling his family and teaching commitments. Mitchell had previously obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Music Education from Troy University.
White is excited to see Mitchell share his technology expertise with students.
“During the pursuit of his graduate work, he was one of our point persons for leading instructional technology sessions at our school,” White said. “He expressed interest in the STEM position along the way, and he demonstrated great initiative through applying for a grant.”
The grant, a $960 Innovation Grant that Mitchell and science teacher Derrik Mathis received from the Bulloch County Foundation for Public Education, was used to fund Raspberry pi programming software resources. Mitchell is using them to pilot an eighth-grade STEM elective this semester in addition to teaching his band classes.
White said Mitchell’s transfer to technology will allow the school to develop authentic STEM learning experiences for our students.
“We look forward to building on the excitement that our feeder elementary schools have built with their STEM Labs and collaborating with our district middle school colleagues who already have existing STEM courses,” White said.
Mitchell knows that establishing a middle school STEM program will take work, but he’s already proven he’s up to the task. He met the challenges of building and sustaining excellence in the middle school’s band program and served as the assistant director of the high school band at the same time. Working with both band programs during marching and competition season from July to November, Mitchell would begin his day at 7:30 a.m. and end at 10 p.m. Weekends were filled with football games or a band competition.
“It will be strange not having him there anymore,” Olsen said. “I never had to talk about what I needed. We think alike, so he just knew what to do and did it. We will certainly welcome the new band director with open arms, but Joey will be missed.”
According to White, the school has conducted interviews with multiple applicants, and he and his faculty team have recommended their top candidate to the Board of Education for approval.
“The new director at SEBMS will be a welcomed addition to our musical round table,” said Amanda Mitchell. “I feel it will be a fresh, new perspective on how to bring everything to another level.”
Amanda is her husband’s top cheerleader.
“I will forever be grateful that Joey chose music as his profession first,” she said. “He really and truly loved technology and engineering. Music is what brought us together as we were both band directors when we first met. I know that had he chosen to go with technology or engineering, our paths probably would not have crossed.”
The Mitchells have four children: Autumn West, 21, a senior at Georgia Southern; Avery West, 17, a junior at SEBHS; Troy Mitchell, 6, and in kindergarten at Nevils Elementary; and A.J. Mitchell, 5, a pre-kindergarten student at Nevils.
“All of our children have been or currently are a part of some performing group even if it is our own,” Amanda Mitchell said. “Now, Joey and I can be audience members more.”
Greene is the Public Relations/Marketing Specialist for Bulloch County Schools.