With online learning, most students have barely set foot in Mt. Hebron since March, but the school is still far from empty.
Many staff members have returned under strict safety procedures, whether for space, focus or necessity. They must sign in and out of the building with a Google Form, indicating where they will go so the custodial staff knows where to clean afterward. Signs and markers for social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands are spread across the building.
“I like to use my paper towel after washing my hands to open all of the doorknobs, and if I speak to someone, stand far away,” English teacher Lauren Fischetti says. “For the few amount of people in the building now, it works.”
When asked about the advantages and disadvantages of working in the building, math teacher Farah Jawhar said, “[The] best part is: it feels more like normal life. I wake up in the morning, get my coffee, and drive to work. I am much more productive at school. [The] worst part is the loneliness in the building. The hallways are always empty and quiet.”
But students and staff tend to overlook a major factor: the custodial staff themselves, who have been hard at work throughout the pandemic.
Mr. Tim Moore has been a custodian at Mt. Hebron for over two years, and in Howard County schools since 2004.
“The school system counts on us in so many ways,” he said. “I take it under consideration all because I care.”
Moore checks the cleanliness of classrooms and bathrooms, thoroughly wipes down commonly used objects (e.g. door handles, phones, etc.), surveys the outside for broken glass and unlocked doors, and cuts the grass weekly. He shares many of these responsibilities with the rest of the staff.
“Pretty much, I maintain the building as if it was a regular school day,” he said.
When asked what he enjoys most about his job, Mr. Moore elaborated, “I enjoy being a role model for high school students, influencing, encouraging and giving out some advice for whatever they are trying to accomplish. I want them to do very well here, and definitely when they step out into the real world. It is a joy!”
Meanwhile, Ms. Adrienne Tomlin is the staff’s day supervisor and has been at Mt. Hebron for 12 years.
“The best [part of the job] is walking in a clean building, waiting for the kids and staff to come in, the staff members telling me how good the building looks,” she said. “The worst part is when kids make a mess, like throwing food in the cafeteria, spilling coffee in the hallways, and not telling anyone or cleaning it up.”
Despite common misconceptions, however, the staff has not gone without recognition.
“The custodial staff are truly the unsung heroes right now,” Ms. Fischetti said. “I’ve always had a lot of respect for our building services team, and this pandemic just shows how essential they are to keeping Hebron going. Just because they aren’t teachers or administrators, doesn’t mean their job isn’t difficult – we all experience the same level of demands.”
Tomlin neatly summed up what motivates her to overcome those difficulties.
“People sometimes say to me, ‘I can’t do what you do, I don’t have the stomach for cleaning up when kids get sick or make a mess in the restrooms.’ I tell them I have five kids of my own; it does not bother me. I care about the kids, that’s why I do it.”
The custodial staff is a valued part of the Mt. Hebron community. The long hours they put in allow students and staff to attend a cleaner, healthier school.