FROM CUSTODIAN TO PRINCIPAL: HOPEFUL EXAMPLE

According to a BBC News article this week, an American man became principal of the school he once cleaned.

Michael Atkins’ life was changed by his second grade teacher, Mrs. Brown. Years after he left school and because of helpful guidance, “doors he once cleaned were opened up for him in the education system.”

Michael had a custodian job in a local school before being hired at an elementary school in Denver, Colorado. It was this job that helped lead him onto the path to become the principal of a school that had been his own neighborhood school when he was a child.

“It’s truly meaningful to be back in my own community,” Michael told the BBC.

He had liked school, but it was difficult for him when “some teachers made students aware of their differences based on where they came from and what they looked like.”

“Schooling was more like compliance for me,” he realized.

After high school Michael’s life lacked but still needed guidance from caring teachers.

“There was no-one to show me how to access higher education. No-one in my family had the tools to guide me.”

When he was about to become a father at 19, he needed to earn money fast, so he got a job and decided to go to state college.

Michael knew he was good with children and  applied for assistant teaching jobs while he attended college part-time to study business.

He wasn’t hired for that but instead was hired for positions as a school custodian. As it turned out the principal of one of the schools was Carolyn Brown now Riedlin.

“She embraced me, asked about my family. I told her how I wanted to work with kids.” Riedlin even created a new position and hired him as a reading and writing paraprofessional.

“She was one of those teachers in elementary school who instilled a few good things into me — self-worth and love. She was very caring. She’d ask questions beyond school. Those things were meaningful.”

Her attitude and approach had made a difference to Michael. According to him, social and emotional development and wellbeing are just as important as academia.

“If we have children struggling with identity, culture, self-worth, then it’s hard for them to learn. It’s difficult to ask a child who’s experienced something traumatic in their lives to sit down and learn academic subjects. That’s a big ask.”

Today Michael Atkins is the new principal at Stedman School. Mr. Atkins acknowledges that becoming a father when he was so young and that his past experiences have helped him “…to model excellence and strive for more.”

Also he notes the value of hard work and dedication when “the cards might not be set up in our favour….”

When a student is struggling, Mr. Atkins has helpful advice for the adults in the student’s life.

“I’d tell their parents and teachers to give them the tools of advocacy…. by creating self-worth and celebrating the student. It’s our responsibility as educators to create self-worth and celebrate our cultures.”

Mr. Atkins’ hopeful example impacts more than just students. His story touches many teachers across the United States who wish to visit his school. Hope continues to spread, and that means his example really is full of hope — all the way to overflowing it seems.

(Inspired by “US man becomes principal of the school he once cleaned” by Sherie Ryder, BBC News, June 2019)

“Teach children how they should live, and they will remember it all their lives.”
(Proverbs 22:6)

“But as for you, continue in the truths that you were taught and firmly believe. You know who your teachers were, and you remember that ever since you were a child, you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:14-15)

“Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a real blessing.” (Psalms 127:3)

“Some people brought children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples scolded the people. When Jesus noticed this, he was angry and said to his disciples, “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you that whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it. Then he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on each of them, and blessed them.” (Mark 10:13-16)

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