By David Streicher
One can take a look anywhere around UAHS, and the custodians will be there. Students often see them staying late after school sweeping the floors or cleaning out the garbage cans in the cafeteria during lunch hour. These men and women in blue are the people who keep the high school running. The custodians’ work maintains day to day school life at UAHS, but many custodians believe they are overlooked by the student body.
The main duty of the custodial staff is cleaning the classrooms. According to staff member Janet Mitchell, during the school year, the custodial staff members receive “sets,” or fixed areas, of the school that they are assigned to clean. The custodial staff also works closely with the teachers whose rooms are included in their sets.
According to Michelle Louks, another staff member, the teacher- custodian relationship is critical to the custodians’ work evaluation.
“The most important thing is service. It’s servicing your teacher, and making sure that your teachers are happy,” Louks said. “If your teachers are happy, then your boss is happy, and everyone else is happy. And if your teachers are happy, your boss knows you’re working.”
However, the duties of the custodial staff go far beyond simply sweeping the rooms. According to Head Custodian Jerry Adkins, the duties of the staff custodians are extremely broad, ranging from day-to-day cleaning to building security.
“We do everything, from trying to keep security where we can, the cleaning of the building, helping with events or banquets, that kind of thing,” he said. “Just seeing that the school runs properly, that the building has heat and electricity, just to be there if anything happens to the building, or if it needs minor repairs.”
Despite their important role, many of the custodians don’t feel that they are properly respected by the students. Custodial staff member Hermy Cuenca believes that some students view the custodians as being too ordinary to take seriously.
“Some students I have [had to] talk to, because the way they [see the custodians as] run of the mill,” Cuenca said. “I’ve heard [one] student [say] ‘Let those stupid custodians do their job.’ So I talked to the student, ‘Do I look stupid to you? I’m a custodian here. I live here in Upper Arlington, my two kids are in this high school, so do I look stupid to you?’”
Custodial staff member Janet Mitchell also notes that oftentimes students will ignore custodians altogether, even though without them the school would not be able to function.
“We’re people too. We have feelings just like everyone else,” Mitchell said. “If I’m walking down the hall, kids tend to just [not] care that [I’m] there. It’s just that people always take the custodians like we’re nothing.”
Mitchell feels her duties as a custodian aim primarily to create a safe learning environment for students.
“Without custodians, the building wouldn’t be clean, and you can’t come to school if the building isn’t sanitized,” she said. “[Our] main [goal] is safety for the kids and sanitation for the building.”
Adkins believes that the lack of good relationships with the students may be partially due to the shift schedule for the custodial staff, which makes developing connections with the students difficult.
“I have a lot of people who say ‘hello’ or ‘hi’ in the hallways, but [given] the shift that we work, we don’t have a lot of direct communication with the students,” he said. “Our biggest thing is usually telling them not to do something.”
Adkins worries that the custodians may come off as being too harsh, given that they have a different set of life experiences and may not identify with the students. He says that in reality, however, the custodians are as concerned with the development of students as the high school’s teachers.
“The custodial staff is really interested in seeing what happens to the kids in the long run,” Adkins said. “Some [of the staff members] may come off a little strong at times with their personalities, but really, they’re basing [their attitude] on their [life experiences].”
Despite the lack of attention they receive, the work of the custodians is integral not only to the everyday functioning of the high school, but to the growth of the students. Louks hopes that in the future, students and the custodial staff will enjoy a more positive relationship.
“Just because a custodial staff walks by doesn’t mean they’re mad or in a bad mood, [the students] can come up anytime, ask anything, and [we’ll] answer them,” Louks said. “We all have different personalities, and in this school district, there’s some diversity. We all have to respect each other and care about each other. Regardless of whether we say anything or not, we still care.”