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Being role model clicks with the students

Mike Robinson
Mike Robinson is vice principal, elder and prison minister.

Mike Robinson never knows when, where or if what he conveys will click with someone he relates with as vice principal at Centennial Middle School, as an ordained elder-teacher at Holy Temple Church of God in Christ or as prison minister at Airway Heights Correction Center or Walla Walla Prison.

As he teaches people, he brings his life experiences, his caring and his desire to build relationships.  Often he shares just by being present in people’s lives and by modeling a positive way of living everyday life.

Now in his second year as vice principal at Centennial Middle School in the West Valley School District, Mike incorporates understanding of people gained from his experiences in ministry and in military service, turning discipline into teachable moments.

He’s able to do that because he has relationships with the students.  He greets them at the door each day as they come in, sees them in the halls, and attends football and baseball games.  He’s a presence in students’ lives.  He also connects with the community and meets parents at games and school conferences.

As a chief petty officer in the Navy, he served as a Search and Rescue Swimmer, jumping into water from helicopters to rescue people. His deployments were in Italy, Spain, Australia, Singapore and Asia, as well as the United States.  He joined the Church of God in Christ in 1986 while based in San Diego. 

Before retiring from the Navy in 1995, he earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts in 1992 from St. Mary’s College in Maryland.  He also studied business and economics for two years.

After leaving the service, he worked briefly in banking, with Blockbuster and as night security officer for Microsoft.

At City University in Tacoma, he earned a master’s in K-8 education in 1998.  During that time, he qualified and was ordained as an elder in the Church of God in Christ in 1997.

He taught math for three years to seventh to ninth graders in the Bethel School District, coached varsity girls’ basketball for four years at Wilson High School in Tacoma, was vice principal at Lakota Middle School in Federal Way and was principal for three years at Glaudrone Middle School in Tacoma.

The school reorganized because of funding cuts, letting go all administrative staff and rehiring only some.  His year unemployed was “a shocker” for him, “but God met all of our needs.”

He did substitute teaching for a year before moving to Spokane Valley.

At Centennial Middle School, Mike said his role is to connect with the 580 students, faculty, staff and surrounding community.  He is part of the team providing for the academic and social needs of students as they progress through sixth, seventh and eighth grades, preparing to transition into high school.

“The vice principal at a middle school handles discipline,” he said.  “I can use it as an opportunity to teach the students, because I have a relationship with them.”

“They know that when they come to see Mr. Robinson there are consequences, but they also know I care about them,” he said.  “I want to help them learn and grow from their mistakes.  I challenge them to be truthful.

“Students want to have rules and expectations, so we create a positive culture for students to be accountable,” he said.

As a lifelong learner, Mike hopes to instill that passion in others. 

“I want to continue to learn to be better.  If people call things to my attention, I try to improve myself so I can be the best at what I do,” he said.

He wants other people to share that attitude so they can make adjustments that improve their lives.

Mike thinks middle-school age is a time to make a positive impact to mold children and youth for a lifetime.  Many carry baggage, coming from broken homes, having a parent incarcerated or worrying where the next meal will come from.  Many of the students are on free or reduced-price lunches.

“The stories of some pull on the heartstrings, because much of their situation is no fault of their own,” Mike said.

“This school is a place where their life barriers do not matter.  We give students a sense of home, family and support for learning,” he said.

“In my years in education, I have found young people resilient.  Giving them the right nurturing and environment, they will flourish,” Mike said.  “I see students mature even in one year.  I want to help the students grow academically, socially and emotionally.”

While he doesn’t talk about spiritual issues at school, he can model his faith by being someone the students want to emulate.

“I try to display consistent behavior every day,” he said.  “It’s one thing to talk a good game about one’s faith, but another thing just to live it by caring for people.”

Many students know he’s also a minister.  Some saw him in that role when he spoke at Millwood Presbyterian Church.

An insight from his experience in the Navy was the way people on the flight deck of a ship worked together, using their different talents and responsibilities.

He believes teamwork like that is also key in education and in ministry.

During their years in the Tacoma area, Mike and his wife Joan began doing prison ministry at the state prison in Walla Walla.  In addition, he leads a twice-a-month interactive Bible study for 50 inmates at Airway Heights Correction Facility.

When he was an angry third grader growing up in Seattle with his mother, brother and sister, some may have thought he was headed to jail.  His father had left when he was six months old.  In the fourth grade, however, someone cared and he began going to church with his mother’s friend.

“I gave my life to the Lord and spent my teen years in the youth group,” Mike said.  “So now I go to jail to minister, I serve the church by teaching children and adults, leading workshops and seminars, and I relate with middle-school students to give them guidance.”

With students and prisoners, he knows the importance of people having both opportunities and discipline.

Mending relationships is also key in each setting.

In prisons, he meets with people who made mistakes and need someone to reach out to share the Gospel without judging them for what they have done.

“Recognizing that we are all sinners and have fallen short,” Mike said.  “I minister to them, and they minister to me.”

At Airway Heights, prisoners discuss Scriptures during multi-racial services Mike leads. 

“They want to learn and improve their lives,” he said, aware that some may come just to be out of their cells  “When they come, however, they hear the Word of God, which does not leave people in a void.  My role is to teach the Word and to pray for people.  I have no expectation of instantly healing people.

“It’s awesome to realize that God made each of us to fulfill God’s purposes.  We are each one of a kind,” he said.

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