Sunflower Elementary paraprofessional recognized for going extra mile for special-needs students
photo by: Elvyn Jones
Witnessing a family member be deprived of educational opportunities left a lasting impression on Mike Harris, much to the benefit of special-needs students at Sunflower Elementary School.
Harris, a special-needs paraprofessional at Sunflower since 2008, was presented Tuesday with the Lawrence Schools Foundation’s annual Dedication to Education Award and the $5,000 check that comes with it during the school’s morning staff meeting.
Harris said he accepted the special-needs paraprofessional position because he believed all young people should have the opportunity to learn.
“I had an aunt with special needs,” he said. “She was the youngest of 12 children. She was not given the opportunity to go to school because of the policy of the time.”
Harris also views his job as a continuation of his military career. He retired from the Air Force in 2002 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
“My life has been dedicated to service,” he said. “This is a way I can continue to serve.”
Harris called himself a small cog in a big machine when accepting the award. Lawrence Superintendent Anthony Lewis dismissed that humble characterization.
“You are a big part of what goes on at this school,” Lewis said. “You’ve distinguished yourself. This is your 11th year as a paraprofessional. I can’t tell you how rare that is.”
Lewis read testimonials from Sunflower teachers, praising Harris for his firm, fair and caring approach to students and his patience in helping them realize their potential.
“Mike works to help students learn how to use the tools and resources they need to be productive and proud,” wrote Sunflower resource teacher Eve Cummins in a testimonial that Lewis quoted. “It makes me smile when I see a strong, determined man with a military mind simply melt and make exceptions for students who need them. His keen sense of when to be in charge versus when to be flexible is priceless.”
Scott Morgan, Lawrence Schools Foundation president, said the award has been given annually since 2005 to a teacher or paraprofessional who goes the extra mile to help district students. The $5,000 that comes with the recognition was a donation from a group called the Sons and Daughters of Bobs. The group’s membership is following the lead of their parents, who are behind the foundation’s annual $10,000 Bobs Award for Teaching Excellence, he said. Both the Sons and Daughters of Bobs and the Bobs choose to remain anonymous, preferring to keep the focus on the educators receiving the awards, he said.