In DENVER Colorado as students walk into classrooms to start a new year, one principal in Colorado is also walking into a new school. In his 38 years of life, Stedman Elementary School’s new principal Michael Atkins has spent more than 30 years as a part of the Denver Public Schools System.
Atkins started off as a custodian — and he wants students to know if he can do it, they can, too.
“Growing up in Park Hill, there wasn’t many positive influences and or opportunities in the neighborhood. So, therefore, I didn’t really have any aspirations to be in education.”
But his dreams changed. Part-time became full time and Atkins started to fall in love with his job. “I was the part-time custodian at Smiley Middle School which is now McAuliffe right up the street,” Atkins said. But he wanted something more.
So at a time when just 2 percent of educators in the U.S. are African American men, Atkins saw an opportunity to be something he needed as a student, a male role model.
“A lot of my African American male students remind me of me. Not to say that they’re coming from the same situation that I came from: A household of a single mother, only engaging with my father once in my life, right? So not really having that rock, but needing that rock often in that time,” Atkins said.
As he reflects on his journey from custodian to principal, Atkins remembers his grandmother’s wise words.
“Don’t let someone write your story, make sure you write your own story. And if someone has something to do with your story let them edit it, do not let them create it.”
As Atkins prepares for a new school year and yet another DPS position, he hopes to help edit dozens of unique stories that each student will carry with them as they walk through Stedman’s doors.