Custodial staff maintains school, makes connections

Zeke La Mantia
Social Media Manager

Custodian Brenda Naeger cleans the cafeteria floor before lunch. The cafeteria is one of the areas she cleans in addition to the drama department. Photo by Zeke La Mantia

Custodians do their work behind the scenes, so their contributions may go unnoticed.

Custodian Christopher Swinney has worked for the high school for four years. His assigned area is the shop area and the basement. Before that, he was a machine operator. He enjoys video games and talking with students.

“They (the ‘kids’) come to me for advice or just to talk; I enjoy that much,” Swinney said.
Students not only connect with Swinney, they connect with other custodians as well.

“I talked to some custodians at Hixson Middle School. There was this one lady who was a very important person to me. She always had nice things to say and checked in on me. She reminds me of my mom, and I’ll remember her long after I graduate,” senior Carmichael Crump said.

“They’re really nice people, and sometimes you can just have a convo with them, and it’s good,” junior Zak Gilliland said.

Assistant principal Dwight Kirksey said, “I speak to quite a few whenever I see them in the halls. I ask about their families and what they like to do. Just like our students, we try to get to know our staff.”
Outside of school, custodians are involved in the community.

Custodian Loretta Brown has worked for the high school as a custodian since August 2018. Her assigned area is the band and choir hallway. Before that, she worked in the cafeteria as a lunch lady.

Brown enjoys singing in church and has an extensive art background. She also enjoys her job and being back in a high school setting after she herself had graduated.

“The most interesting thing about my job is being back in high school. I work in the band wing, and that’s where I spent most of my time in high school. It’s really strange to be back.
“I see the kids, and I see myself,” Brown said.

Lack of respect towards the custodians may be inferred when people leave trash in the cafeteria and at least once someone defecated in the stairwell.

“Respect them; I think their job is looked over. At the end of the day they’re the ones that clean up after us,” Crump said.

“They don’t get as much respect or recognition as they should,” Crump added.

Their job is important, they have lives outside of the school, and all they do is to benefit the space lived in and worked in by the students and staff, according to drama teachers Sarah Romanowski and Todd Schaefer, and Crump.

Romanowski said she has become very close with custodian Brenda Naeger, who cleans the drama department in the mornings.

“They travel and are real people, too. Being aware you are making a mess and cleaning it up will help them a great deal,” Romanowski said.

Schaefer has known Naeger for many years.

“Brenda was our custodian when the drama department was in the Little Theater still. She left us for a bit, and we had another woman, but then we got Brenda back when we moved into our current location near the cafeteria,” Schaefer said.

“No one really loves their job, but she likes doing her work for you guys. She’s invested in her job for the students, and I love that,” Schaefer said.

Naeger has worked for the high school for 16 years. Her assigned section is the drama department and the cafeteria after lunches. Before that, she worked in multiple factories for 20+ years. She enjoys bowling and socializing with her coworkers; she has plans to travel in the foreseeable future.

The school has in place trash bins and recycling bins to help ease the jobs of custodians as well as notes for the students on the morning announcements about keeping the air in the school clean by not smoking on campus. Signs in the bathrooms about proper disposal of trash and signs in the hallways about respecting the environment are also ways administration is trying to help ease the custodians’ work load.

“I think right now we’re trying to see what they need from us; we don’t want to dictate what they need; we try to see what other endeavors we can do for them,” Kirksey said.

In the summer of 2019 the custodial break room moved from under the stairwell next to the cafeteria courtyard to the old ISS room right across from the main office. The reason for the sudden move was lack of space and the fact that the room was right next to the boiler.

About how students could assist the custodial staff with their jobs, every custodian interviewed said that it would be helpful if students picked up after themselves during lunch.

“Our school would be a trash heap if they weren’t here, not gonna lie,“ sophomore Alyssa Rahn said.

Custodian Loretta Brown dusts the door frame Friday, Jan. 24, after school is dismissed. Photo by Zeke La Mantia

Compassionate custodian saves day

Zeke La Mantia
Social Media Manager

Late October, two days before “Chicago the Musical,” opened at the high school, disaster struck.

I work sound for the drama department. I was tasked with not only making the mic chart for the whole show telling people backstage who to mic and when, but also with remapping the board when we got new mics.

After I remapped the board during my ac lab earlier in the day, I took the old mic chart and threw it away, not only because I had no use for it anymore but also because it was ripped.

The end of the day came, and we were about to start dress rehearsal for the show and were doing a mic check before we began. We had just gotten five new rental mics, and they didn’t seem to be working with what I had previously done with the sound board and our preexisting mics.

We had to stop rehearsal two days before we opened while I bawled my eyes out and every sound techie tried to help figure out what went wrong.

I went back to the library where I had thrown away the old mic chart so I could try and piece it back together and get us out of the mess we were in.

The trash cans had been emptied, and I lost hope that we’d get to have any rehearsal with mics before opening night, but then Loretta Brown, custodian, came and saved the day.

Brown walked up while I was standing in the library crying and asked if I’d lost something. I told her what happened, and she told me to wipe my tears away, and that it’d all be okay.

She pulled out all the trash bags she’d already dumped out, and we went through them together looking for the many pieces of the mic sheet. The whole time she was encouraging me that it was going to be alright in the end, and that the show would go on, and I didn’t need to stress out.

Drama teacher Todd Schaefer came in some time later along with senior John Sterbenz, who is on sound crew with me. All three of them helped me tape together the mic sheet and find all the little missing pieces.

“Her helping us piece it together like a puzzle… helping us find all the scrapes… it was a moment. I mean you’ve heard of it takes a village,” Schaefer said.


Zeke La Mantia – Social Media Editor

This is Zeke La Mantia’s first year on with Echo publications.  He has earned multiple awards for his photographic contributions.


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