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Making the Grade

Special to the Daily Debra Mitchell, a fourth grade teacher at Summit Cove Elementary School, and her husband J. Boyd at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland this summer.
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SUMMIT COVE – At 2,500 feet, Crough Patrick is one of the more prominent features of Ireland’s lush terrain. Better known as the country’s “Holy Mountain,” the peak rises precipitously from the sea and narrows to a craggy point at its top. On clear days, one can see for miles from the summit.Of course, Debra Mitchell – Summit Cove Elementary School’s fourth-grade teacher – did not climb Crough Patrick on a clear day. Rather, she and her husband found themselves braving the steep grade of the Holy Mountain in a driving rain and, yes, in Ireland’s notorious fog.”That morning, one couple at our bed-and-breakfast said, ‘Oh, they’ll never do it – the weather’s terrible,'” Mitchell said last week, reflecting on her climb. “Another couple said, ‘I bet they will – they’re from Colorado!'”

As the wiser of the couple predicted, Mitchell and her husband did summit the 2.5-er. At the peak, they paused for a quick photo – where St. Patrick once spent 40 days and nights fasting and praying for the people of Ireland – and then booked it back down. Near the bottom, they stumbled upon a sign the fog had hidden on the way up:When climbing the mountain, keep strictly to the path on foggy days

“When I saw the sign, I thought, ‘Oh – word to the wise or the extremely stupid!'” Mitchell joked. “But it was beautiful.”Crough Patrick was just one of the many highlights during Mitchell’s three-week vacation in Ireland this summer. She and her husband notched more than 2,000 miles on their rental car odometer as they visited sites steeped in Irish lore – the Cliffs of Moher, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, the Giant’s causeway, the pubs.”Oh absolutely,” Mitchell confessed when asked if she tangoed with the Irish beer culture. “I learned how to drink a Guinness without getting foam on my lip. It was really fascinating to go in and talk with the locals. The pub was where all the action was every single night.”



One night Mitchell found herself in a pub surrounded by Irish teachers. The group talked about their philosophies and their teaching styles, their classroom management and their approach to parents. Like Mitchell, one of the men was a fourth-grade teacher who had 33 students in his classroom, versus Mitchell’s 18.”He had some of the same joys and challenges that we do here,” Mitchell said. “But he had 33 of them!”Indeed, as Mitchell reflects on her time in Ireland, it’s people like the teacher in the pub who left the most lasting impressions. Whether it was locals helping Mitchell and her husband out of a maze of unmarked roads or a family offering insight into sheep-shearing, the Irish as a people exceeded Mitchell’s expectations in every capacity.”In some regards, you see how much extra we have,” Mitchell said. “They didn’t have big washing machines and big cars. They were much more conservative in their natural resources than we are … It just kind of renews your sense of humanity. That’s something I’ll keep forever; how friendly those people were.”


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