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Lawrence Township teacher cares for students while battling cancer

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — WISH-TV is Indiana’s education station and News 8 honors outstanding teachers every month with the Golden Apple Award. It comes with a trophy, a $500 school supply shopping spree at Teachers’ Treasures, and a surprise from Hanna Mordoh.

October’s Golden Apple Award winner is Amy Mitchell from the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township, and she always puts her students first, including caring for her class while battling cancer.

Amy Mitchell with her students after winning WISH-TV’s Golden Apple Award. (WISH Photo)

At the McKenzie Career Center of Innovation and Technology, students from Lawrence North and Lawrence Central High Schools get schooled in life.

“We are getting them ready for real life,” Mari Swayne, career center director.

Swayne says no one does that better than Amy Mitchell.

“Amy Mitchell is a rock star. She is just one of the best people I have ever met. Forget education, she just is a beautiful person. She is here early, she stays late. She is so passionate about what she does for our students in the biomedical science program. She loves everything that she does,” Swayne says.

With more than 30 years of teaching biomedical science to freshmen and sophomores, Mitchell has this job “down to a science.” However, it’s her heart that has everyone hooked.

“She is just so generous and giving,” Amy Hinshaw, a fellow teacher, said. “She is the most bubbly, positive individual you will have the chance to meet. She is such a hard worker. She is always here by the time I arrive in the morning and she is still here at the end of the day when I leave.”

Amy Mitchell after winning WISH-TV’s Golden Apple Award. (WISH Photo)

Hinshaw teaches in the same department and says she can hear the love Mitchell has for students — past and present.

“You can just hear her from my room. She is like ‘Oh my gosh – how are you? I haven’t seen you!’ and gives a big hug. And these are the seniors and juniors she had a couple of years ago and they still come and visit her,” Hinshaw said.

That includes Tara Neal. She is a senior at Lawrence North and in the biomedical science program.

“She is that teacher that, if you could give all the awards to, you would. I just love who she is and I know that bond is special,” Neal said.

Even as a senior, she still considers Mitchell a mentor, friend, and medical inspiration.

“She takes what she does so seriously, but with so much love,” Neal said. “Her students are her priority. It doesn’t surprise me at all that she puts her students above herself.”

And Mitchell does that — almost to a fault.

Last year, Mitchell was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, which the Mayor Clinic describes as a “cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell.” There is no cure, only the possibility of remission.

Mitchell’s twin sister, Lauri Malinka, says Mitchell was focused most on her students after the diagnosis.

“Her students. They have always been first, and it is just a true show of character to who she is — that they came first. Because she said, ‘I don’t want to let them down.’ She had cancer and she didn’t want to let them down,” Malinka said. “She wanted to wait as long as she could to let them know she did have cancer.” 

Mitchell’s doctors said she needed a stem cell transplant in January of this year. However, she said it needed to wait.

“She was like, ‘I can’t really do that to my kids,’” Malinka said. “I said, ‘Amy please have this surgery — please have this stem cell surgery.’ And she goes, ‘Lauri, I can’t – I can’t do it to those kids.’ And that really just sat into my heart and into my mind just how dedicated she is to this.”

Mitchell compromised and used spring break to take a break for the surgery. But, even then, she was still committed to her classroom.

“We obviously had to tell her, ‘We have got this. We need you to take care of yourself, but even through that, she managed to still be engaged throughout the entire process,” Swayne said. “That was a part of her healing process, to make sure her kids were still okay.”

Nothing could stop this educator from educating.

“She was bound and determined she was going to start this fall, and she did!” Malinka said.

Determination and devotion — beyond deserving of the WISH-TV Golden Apple Award.

“I don’t know of anybody more deserving of this award than my sister,” Malinka said of her sister. “To truly put students first above her own health or safety, and she is just amazing.”

Therefore, News 8’s Hanna Mordoh and Mitchell’s family went to surprise her with the award in her classroom.

“I don’t know what to say…It is wonderful and it is thanks to my students. I love what I do and these are the best students ever, it makes my job easy,” Mitchell said.

Reflecting on her cancer journey, she said: “It made me realize how much I loved working with kids. I missed teaching and missed being here at McKenzie and that is what drove me to want to come back in the fall.”

Mitchell watched a video from her sister, fellow staff, and students. Through tears, hugs, and laughter, she said she was honored to be recognized and extremely surprised.

“I am just overwhelmed. I am full of happiness. Thank you so much. It has been a journey for many, many years,” said Mitchell. “I have seen this award on TV and it always warms my heart to see teachers that win this award and I never expected it to be me.”

Mitchell encourages people to never give up, based on her own experience with cancer, but also her career.

She quit being a teacher after her first year because it was extremely hard. She worked at a law firm and eventually went back to her calling, saying it was “the best move of her life.”

Mitchell has now been teaching in Lawrence Township for more than 25 years. She emphasized that young teachers should keep pushing past difficult years because the payoff of teaching is worth it.

“Just never give up. Don’t give up, whether it is a job or something in life that is difficult; as I look around here, I see that I have won,” Mitchell said.

WISH-TV Golden Apple Award. (WISH Photo)

She has won. However, the truth is no award is worthy of Mitchell. Some acts are so selfless, the light they shine on others is the true sign of someone special.

To watch other Golden Apple Award recipients, click this link.

To nominate a deserving teacher for next month’s Golden Apple Award, submit a detailed nomination here.