Some students make fun of them, give them attitude, and treat them very lowly. They don’t realize how important custodians are to the school. There are only seven custodians at Dobie. Without them, the school would never be clean. But their job is never-ending. There is always something to clean at Dobie.
“If students would just help pick up the trash, our lives would be so much easier,” said Mr. Leon Balarin, Head Custodian, who has worked at Dobie for almost 17 years and even won an award for his service.
The custodians work very hard. Every day — including most holidays when students and staff are off school — the crew starts working at 1:30, but some start even earlier. Their days are long; they don’t get off work until long after students and teachers have gone home — 10 p.m.
The custodians have many duties. Each day, they clean every single office and classroom. They pick up trash, sweep, dust, mop and more in the classrooms. Some classrooms are very messy. There can be chewed gum on desks and on floors, books on floor, assignments or trash on the floor.
Dobie custodians set up hundreds of chairs and put them away after evening theater performances. They clean up the gyms after games. They keep the outside of the building clean. They even raise and lower the United States flag every morning and afternoon.
The custodians say keeping the cafeteria clean is the “hardest part of the job”. They clean each morning after breakfast and after two lunch periods. They must also constantly clean up after students who drop trash, crumbs, food everywhere. Some students even leave their whole tray on the table. Others purposely throw food on the floor or stuff trays and other trash in lockers or in the halls.
During lunch, two custodians, Señora Maria Ortiz and Señora Maria Padron, arrive to work early to clean. Recently, students were clearly making messes on purpose and Padron wearily pointed to students at two of the tables. “Every day,” she said.
It’s hard to blame them for getting frustrated. Balarin tries to make jokes to ease the frustrations of his staff.
Each afternoon, the custodians fold up and move tables off of the main cafeteria floor so they can clean the floors thoroughly with a large, heavy buffing machine that makes the floors shine. Each table weighs 360 lbs and requires 3 men to fold them up and put them back.
But that’s just part of the job.
“Another one of our duties is we clean the big pieces of trash in the hallways because most students kick it around and then smash it,” Balarin chuckles. “His biggest pet peeve is trash on floor, especially since there are 16 extra large trash cans that many students don’t care to use.
Not only does Mr. Balarin clean, but he and coworker Mr. Mike Carson fix things as well. Sometimes parts of the cafeteria tables may break or the towel rolls in the bathroom will break. Sometimes the repairs are more significant; they all take time, effort and skill to fix.
Restrooms can get bad. Many students don’t respect the school property and they don’t think about who will clean their messes. The sights and smells can be overpowering.
“The girl’s bathroom is so much cleaner compared to the boys,” Balarin says, pointing to a shiny liquid underneath the stalls. “That is urine.”
But just as fast as they can clean it, students go in and make more mess to clean. It’s a constant battle.
Some students draw graffiti on restroom walls, cafeteria tables, desks and more. Some girls like to put lipstick on and kiss the mirrors or draw on the walls with eyeliner.
Sometimes in the classrooms, students will throw lead on the ground without thinking and they don’t notice that it’s marking the floor when stepped on or moved around by chairs. When students they use permanent markers, they stain floors or tables/desks when there is nothing under it to protect it which makes it difficult to clean.
“If I could say one thing to the students I would say, ‘THINK!” Balarin said.
Custodians still keep Dobie clean despite the mess students make and a lack of resources and staff.
“Do you see that? We only have one dumpster,” Balarin says. The school used to have two until they took one away. The school funding is being cut so they can’t afford more than one. One dumpster isn’t enough because they fill up so fast.
The job of a custodian is not only hard, but it can be dangerous. Once, one custodian of slipped and broke his hip. After he had been recovering for a couple months, he came back. But once he returned, he realized that the job was not for him. The school has been one person short on their “crew” ever since. The rest of the custodians had to take on those extra duties as well as clean the extra space added by the renovation of Dobie. “We do plan to replace him as soon as the position is filled,” said Mr. Simmons, Dobie Principal.
Many staff and even some students know that Dobie custodians deserve a lot more appreciation and respect. They deserve help in keeping the school clean. They know that students should make more of an effort to help pick up and throw away trash and pick up their own mess.
“Our custodians are some of the hardest working people on our campus and I appreciate their hard work and dedication to our school,” said Simmons.
Editor’s Note: Samantha Havenner contributed to this report.