Former Denver Janitor Becomes Principal of His Hometown Elementary School

A former school janitor embarked on his first year as a principal in June. He recalls how his tough past led him back to his grade school teacher who became instrumental in changing the course of his life.  

"The cards might not be set up in our favor sometimes but through hard work and dedication, the only person you have to listen to is your own soul."

These are the words of Michael Atkins, an incoming principal at Stedman Elementary in Denver, the same school he attended in his lower years which is located in the same district where he once worked as a janitor. 

LIFE WAS TOUGH IN THE BEGINNING

This will be the first year for Michael as principal, a position he probably never envisioned when he was employed as a custodian at the beginning of his work life.  

A product of a school environment that bred discrimination, Michael in his younger years learned to survive with thick skin with the understanding that school was merely “about compliance,” he told BBC. And though he made it to high school, he said he lacked the proper guidance to see him through further education. 

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

THEN HE BECAME A TEENAGE FATHER WHO HAD TO EARN A LIVING

At 19, Michael became a father and this forced him to get a job and attend a state college to fend for his family. At the time, he realized he had a way with children and decided to pursue a teaching career. He studied business part-time and applied as a teaching assistant. However, Michael recalled getting questioning looks from principals who refused to hire him for the position. Instead, he was offered custodial jobs and he accepted.

"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,”

HE RECONNECTED WITH HIS SECOND GRADE TEACHER WHO HELPED HIM

Michael would learn later that his fate had something better in store for him. In one of the schools he worked at as a custodian, he reconnected with his 2nd grade teacher, Carolyn Riedlin formerly Brown who was then the school’s principal. Michael had fond memories of her.

"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,” he recalled

Carolyn proved to be more than helpful when she hired him as a reading and writing paraprofessional. And as Michael pursued a degree and certification, he began to rise in the ranks from a teacher to an assistant principal. 

"This has been a part of my story — Park Hill, Stedman has been a part of my story, and I've learned so much just from walking these streets."

HE'S NOW THE PRINCIPAL OF HIS FORMER SCHOOL

On June 1, Michael officially became the principal of Stedman. “I’m home,” he said as he walked through the same grounds where he played basketball at the age of 6 and 7. 

"This has been a part of my story — Park Hill, Stedman has been a part of my story, and I've learned so much just from walking these streets."

HE INTENDS TO MAKE CHANGES

Armed with his past and the experiences that taught him so much, Michael intends to use that to correct the wrongs and bridge cultural and racial gaps. “I have an opportunity to do diversity right,” he told CNN

"Don't ignore color or gender -- that's ignoring my identity. Let's celebrate those things and let's celebrate those differences."

HE'S NOT THE ONLY JANITOR WHO CHASED HIS DREAM

Michael’s story is proof that with hard work and determination, no dream is impossible to reach. Like Michael, Frank Baez worked as a janitor in the same school where he eventually earned a nursing degree.

An immigrant who could barely speak English when he began working in New York University’s Langone Tisch Hospital cleaning patient rooms, hallways, and bathrooms, Frank developed a passion for the medical field due to his frequent exposure. After earning a bachelor’s degree in another school using the money he earned from NYU, he returned to study nursing in NYU’s Rory Meyers College where he graduated with a degree in 15 months.  

Michael and Frank are two men we can certainly look up to. They started out as janitors but they’re now living their dreams. 

Related posts
Twitter / People
Viral Stories May 22, 2019
Former Homeless Student Graduates From Georgetown University
Getty Images
Celebs May 15, 2019
Michael Jackson's Son Prince Shares Rare Family Pics After His Graduation
Twitter/AAMN_NYC
Viral Stories May 23, 2019
Man Graduates with Nursing Degree from NYU Where He Started out as a Janitor
Facebook/GoodMorningAmerica
Stories May 24, 2019
Janitor, 83, Moved to Tears After Students Make Him 'King' in Surprise Retirement Party