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Mario Diaz Albarran remembers when he was a kid in Community Consolidated School District 15 in Palatine, where he now works as head custodian. He reflects on those days as a student struggling with social and peer pressure, and how he relied on relationships with his teachers to help him understand the impact of his decisions. Today, those collective memories are the lessons that have made him invaluable to the administrators, teachers, and especially the students at Lincoln Elementary School.

As head custodian, Mr. Diaz Albarran exemplifies excellence in his work performance by ensuring students and teachers have a clean, well-kept, and highly functioning physical learning environment that inspires a sense of pride in themselves and their community. The large campus accommodates approximately 600 students across 40 classrooms, a gymnasium, a cafeteria, and two portable buildings. He’s also known by teaching staff to undertake weekend projects if a room needs painting, or their classroom door needs fixing.

Administrators at Lincoln Elementary can’t say enough about his incredible work ethic but what excites them the most is Mr. Diaz Albarran’s “heart” work with students in the school’s Social Emotional, Trauma Informed Practices, Academic Achievement, Relationships and Character Building (STAR) Program. Students recognize him as the person they can go to when they need a friend to talk to, listen to them, or give advice. His influence is so far-reaching that the program offers students the ability to “earn time” to serve as one of his helpers as a reward for positive behavior. During cafeteria cleanup with his helpers, he fosters connections with students and passes along valuable life advice even as he teaches them work skills. “Mr. Diaz is important to us because he teaches kids like me how to stay out of trouble and do our best,” said one sixth grader.

As notable as Mr. Diaz Albarran’s impact is within Lincoln Elementary School, he is equally regarded in the community for his commitment to the families who live within the district’s boundaries where he grew up and still resides. School staff recalls the weekend that he and a group from his church hosted an outdoor Movie Night with a portable screen and popcorn for students who live in the apartment community in Palatine. These families have also come to rely on him as a leader and someone that they can trust.

The RISE Award is a national honor given each year to one classified school employee who is doing extraordinary and inspirational things in his or her school and community to promote quality education, foster safe and positive learning environments, and ensure student success.

The award educates the public on the important, and often invisible, educational support rendered by some of the hardest-working people in our schools. Classified employees form the glue to the school. The RISE Award reminds the school community that it takes a village to ensure student success. The award honors excellence exhibited by full- or part-time classified school employees who provide exemplary service to students in pre-kindergarten through high school. Each year, the U.S. Department of Education solicit for all U.S. states to submit their top two exemplary classified employee nomination (s) for the opportunity to be selected and recognized as the national honoree by the Secretary of Education. More information is available on the U.S. Department of Education’s RISE webpage.​

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