Mike Poke, a custodian in the Wayzata Public Schools and member of SEIU Local 284, is being honored in Washington, D.C., this week as one of the 2017 Recognizing Inspiring School Employees (RISE) Award winners.
The award is given to five individuals from across the country “who are doing extraordinary and inspirational things in their schools and communities to promote quality education, foster positive learning environments, and ensure student success.”
A ceremony honoring Poke and the four other award recipients was held Wednesday at the United States Botanic Garden on the National Mall near the U.S. Capitol.
Poke is an elected officer on the Executive Board of SEIU Local 284, a union of almost 9,000 school staff across Minnesota. He began as what he calls a "regular custodian," working the overnight shift to make sure the school was ready for students in the morning. But that changed about eight years ago when he was moved to the day shift and began having the chance to interact with students in the school.
He got to know the kids, especially those he saw struggling, and became a mentor to many of them. Students and parents call him when things are bad to see if he can help get students back on track.
“I didn't have someone to keep me motivated when I was a young student, so now I work hard to be that support system for students who need a helping hand,” said Poke. “My mother told me it is important to always give back, and I bring that mindset every day in my job. These kids are our future, so we need to invest in them any way we can. I do the work beyond my job duties because it makes me feel good to see people I help achieve their goals.”
The National Coalition of Classified Education Support Employee Unions, a coalition of state and national unions that together represent 1 million school support employees, gives the RISE award. It highlights the individual contributions of school staff and recognizes the essential role that all education professionals play in shaping public schools.
More than 2.8 million classified education support employees work in the nation’s public schools, colleges, and universities, making up one-third of the public education workforce, according to the coalition. They ensure students achieve at their highest levels. They keep students fed, emotionally and physically healthy and safe, engaged and connected to the larger school community, and provide instruction and support that leads to academic success.