Custodian Becomes School Principle

According to numerous news outlets Micheal Atkins went from Janitor of Lowery Elementary, in Denver to School Principle. His story is both heartwarming and inspiring. This guy brings new meaning to the phrase, “cleaning up”.

If you’ve ever heard the lyrics to Whitney Houston’s hit song The Greatest Love Of All Time you can logically agree with it’s most famous lyrics. “I believe the children are our future.” Damn, they had deep lyrics back then. Yes, when the people of my generation and generations after are old and gray we will look to the youth to keep humanity moving forward.

This particular story is engaging to me because Michael came from a background similar to mine. Growing up as a Black man in America you often receive little to no guidance when it comes to higher education. Even when your family wants to help they often don’t have the tools or the desire to assist you.

With this story, we have a young man who took it upon himself to find a positive path to a better life after becoming a father at the young age of 19. Luckily or by divine intervention Michael’s mother ran a day-care and he ended up with a job as a custodian at local schools. One of the principles turned out to be his second-grade teacher.

After telling his former teacher/principal/boss that he wanted to work with kids she quickly began supporting his goals. Michael says that “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.”

There’s an unbalanced, often unmentioned caste system (no mistake) in American schools that go cruelly overlooked. As Michael mentions “social and emotional development and wellbeing are just as important as academia.” Having someone who has been through the fire as a leader and mentor is a big step in the right direction. Hopefully, other schools start paying attention.

The young students of this era have not only the age-old obstacles of dealing with identity, culture, and self-worth issues but the added pressure of social media and technology which tend to multiply the challenges. To see a move like this being made is a great start, but without assimilation, it will sadly fall short of positively affecting us as a society.

Just in case you’ve been rewired by the news to believe negative news is cool or you think our school system is fair and balanced ask yourself this question; why are so many teachers contacting Michael Atkins wanting to visit his school? Is it a fad or have we finally began to have a conversation about what’s going wrong in this country?

The United States academic achievement lags behind several countries, and let’s not even get started on the underlying causes of some of these mass shootings. Take a deep breath. Clear your mind, and listen to your soul for a moment. When asked what the best advice is that he could give to a teacher dealing with a struggling student. Michael replied, “It’s our responsibility as educators to create self-worth and celebrate our cultures.” All the knowledge is the world is pointless without the confidence to use it. Unlock your knowledge.

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“Many frequently change their principles, but seldom their practices.”

[Feature Photo by moren hsu on Unsplash]

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