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Face of the Week: Triston Mitchell of Middlesex Elementary School

Team BCPS is made up of thousands of accomplished and interesting students, employees, and community supporters. “Face of the Week” introduces you to some of the people who make BCPS such an amazing mosaic of talent, caring, and commitment.

Face of the Week: Hunter Machin of Dundalk High School

When Triston Mitchell gets bored, good things happen.

Triston thinks when he’s bored. He imagines. He writes, and then he writes some more. For this self-assured Grade 4 student at Middlesex Elementary School, down time is just one more opportunity to tap into his deep well of creativity and, then, to fuel his desire to create.

“I wrote my first little story when I was about 5,” says Triston. “It was about a chameleon who gets left by the side of the road, and he changes colors and waits for his family to come back. It was called ‘The Lost Lizard.’”

“I wrote it when I was kind of bored.”

Triston is still writing, but mostly poetry. Lately, he’s been finding inspiration in the prompts school staff member Suzanne Rivet has provided to him and other members of the Middlesex Art and Poetry Club. When asked to think of a new form of transportation, Triston’s creative mind conjured up a “Never Ending Train.” When tasked with thinking up a new kind of creature, he imagined “The Great Griffin.”

Seeing purple bleed into other parts of a painted rainbow during a recent art project, he mixed his impressions with an overheard discussion about diseases and recorded his thoughts:

Why are
you infected?
Is it your style?
Or were
you neglected?
                                 - “The Infected Rainbow”

School nurse Sharon Hall is a Triston fan. “Last month, he presented his poems at the (school’s) poetry event and I was fascinated,” says Hall. “(Triston’s were) nothing like the other poems. . . . His were outstanding and so original. I took a poetry class in college and loved it, and his poems were college level.”

Triston’s latest project involves inventing a mathematics game called “SuperMath” that, with the help of his advanced mathematics teacher Catherine Konkle, he’s had printed and laminated and distributed to all the Grade 4 and 5 classes at Middlesex.

“Triston has a love of learning. . . . He works well with his classmates to share his knowledge of the math concepts,” Konkle says. As he developed his game, she adds, Triston “creatively used math vocabulary, concepts, and skills in a way that students thoroughly enjoy.”

The importance of creativity comes up a lot with Triston. You hear it from his teachers and you hear it from Triston himself, who compares being creative to “being in a big, old room” – a wide-open space you almost see him imaging. “You have a lot of room there,” he says, “and you can do anything.”

An imagination at play

At 10, Triston’s interests seem as varied as the whimsy his mind creates. The middle child in a family with eight siblings, he seems particularly enamored of super heroes right now – his favorites are Thor (“a Norse god; you can’t beat that,” he says under his breath), Spider Man, and Black Panther (but don’t bother him with The Hulk; “he’s just big and green. Super strength is all he’s got!”). When asked what kind of super hero he’d like to be, he mentions being able to read minds and control the weather and says his name would be either “Hurricane” or “Father Nature.”

A quick survey of his favorite media reveals Triston’s eclectic and wide-ranging aesthetic. His favorite movie is “The Wiz” with Michael Jackson and Diana Ross, while his favorite story comes from Greek mythology, the story of Odysseus. He enjoys watching “Once Upon A Time” on TV “for all its twists and turns,” and he recently paired with his mother and school Principal Lori Hutchison to read together the dystopian book “The Giver,” which has since become one of his favorites.

“I tried to keep up with him, but he read faster than both of us,” Hutchison says in her office, grinning as Triston scolds her and his mother for skipping over one chapter “because they thought it was too ‘sophisticated’ for me.” Then Triston grins, too.

As befits a creative mind, books hold a special place for Triston. His life goals include becoming a baker, because he enjoys watching cooking shows at home, or, perhaps most of all, a writer, especially a writer of historical fiction. “I love to write about imaginary things, to think creatively,” he says. “With fiction, you don’t really have any boundaries.”

This train is never ending.
Always twisting.
Always bending.
It goes up and down,
in a spiral, under town.
This train had no station.
It has no destination.
I don’t know how I got here
but now it’s crystal clear.
I had to become
one of the best
so I went on this train
The imagination express.
                                 - ““The Never Ending Train”

New creations

This spring, Konkle says, Triston is finishing up his “SuperMath” by creating written directions to accompany the math-infused game. She had suggested Triston create a game “in his spare time” based on his favorite subject in school, which is – perhaps surprisingly for a wordsmith like Triston – mathematics.

“I’ve always liked solving the problems and finding the answers,” Triston says. “I like being correct.” (In fact, Triston says he has thought a lot about this whole right and wrong thing: “I hate to be wrong,” he says, “but I don’t think I want to be perfect all the time, either. I mean, if you’re perfect, what’s the purpose? What’s the point of living if you’re perfect?”)

It took him two weeks in December to devise the idea for “SuperMath” and to come up with player pseudonyms (“Dr. Division,” “Poppy Parentheses,” “Eli Exponents,” and “Multiplication Man,” natch). In the game, players must answer math problems to move forward until their rolls send them onto one of two paths, where they land on either red “Evil Cards” or blue “Good Cards” – each of which tells a small story and directs board action. The first player to reach the end of the board’s winding course wins.

“I called it ‘SuperMath’ because it combines both super heroes, which I love, and math, which I also love,” Triston says. Of course.

The wind moves
the sea of knowledge
in my heart and my mind.
To speak what I want,
to say what I want.
                                 - “Excerpt from untitled poem

If Triston has one regret about his game, thus far, it’s that no one will play with him. His friends think because he invented the game, he knows how to win it, he says. “Not even my mom will play with me,” he adds. “She thinks she can’t win.”

Triston credits his mom, Tia Simmons, with providing the motivation to pursue his creative talents. It’s her, he says, “who tells me to do what I want to do and to be creative.” In addition to his poetry and math game design, he also juggles membership in the Middlesex student council, on the school’s Math 24 team, robotics club, and the drama club (the spring production is “Annie,” about which Triston is very excited).

But whether he’s staying busy at school or getting bored at home, the joy of creation and imagination is never far from Triston’s mind. “This is what I want to do,” he says.

“And I love the way it makes me feel when I see someone else read my poems or play the game,” he adds. “I see it all in my head, the people who copied the game and laminated it in the resource center, and the teachers who are handing it out to their classrooms, and the kids who are playing it.

“And the way the kids play the game and what they are thinking about,” Triston says, warming to the vision dancing in his mind, “and the way it gets them excited to play it, and they have fun, and the way it puts me on fire to see it, and then, whoosh!”

“I get super happy thinking about it,” he says. “It makes me feel like a firework.” 

Griffin, Griffin,
do you like kittens?
If your hands are cold,
I could get you some mittens.
Could I ride your wings
and hear what the angel sings?
I trust you and love you
with all of my heart.
And I hope that you
don’t fall apart.
Where do you sleep
and where do you hide?
When do you wake?
When do you ride?
I love you so much.
I would do anything
to feel your touch.
I’m always happy when I see you.
And I would do anything to be you 
                                       - ““The Great Griffin”

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