Alumna educator connects third-graders with Catamount Olympian

More than 60 third-grade students at ARISE Academy in the Upper 9th Ward of New Orleans who have “adopted” Western Carolina University and are known as “Catamount Scholars” participated in an Olympic-sized conversation about perseverance with former WCU track standout Manteo Mitchell ’09.

Bessie Goggins ’06 MA ’09 and her students at ARISE Academy in New Orleans.

The students met with Mitchell, a 2012 track Olympian and a former all-conference track star at Western Carolina, on a large screen via Skype. Bessie Dietrich Goggins ’06 MA ’09, a teacher at ARISE, connected the athlete with the young scholars. “After his amazing race during the Olympics, I kept thinking about how awesome it would be if my young scholars – whom I call WCU Catamounts – could have a discussion with him. Our classroom motto is ‘persevere,’ and it all just fits together nicely,” said Goggins.

Mitchell performed in the Summer Olympics held in London. He ran the first leg of the preliminary heat for the 4×400 meter relay and revealed afterward that he broke his left fibula at the 200-meter mark. Thanks to his perseverance, the U.S. team would go on to earn a silver medal in the event. When asked by the young scholars why he kept running, Mitchell said that he wanted to meet the expectations of his team and his country. He told the scholars that they should persevere in all aspects of life. “Don’t give up on anything or anyone you want to be,” said Mitchell. “Set small goals, achieve them and go from there.”

After the conversation with Mitchell, the scholars decorated cards that expressed how excited they were to meet an Olympic athlete and thanked him for showing such perseverance for his country during the international competition. ARISE Academy is a transformational charter school that opened in 2009 in response to the community’s needs after Hurricane Katrina. It serves students from prekindergarten through fifth grade with plans to expand to teach students up to eighth grade.

Mitchell has been busy since returning from London. For his Olympic efforts, he received the Kay Yow Courage Award from the Triangle Sports Commission. The award, named for the legendary N.C. State basketball coach who died of breast cancer, was presented to Mitchell by Nora Lynn Finch ’70 MAEd ’71, associate commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference and a longtime associate and a friend of Yow. Mitchell also was part of a group of Olympians honored by President Obama and his wife, Michelle, during a ceremony at the White House and served as a grand marshal in Asheville’s 2012 holiday parade.