Stepping into the Media Arts Center, a grin spreads across Paly custodian Albert Hildago’s face.
Along with the spotless tables and trash-free surfaces, he sees all of his efforts reminding students to remember to clean up after themselves paying off, and wishes to continue to make changes like this all over the Paly campus.
Hildago has worked as a custodian at Paly since 1997, being first introduced to Palo Alto Unified School District through his father-in-law, who worked at Gunn High School as a custodian as well.
Hildago started his career in the District 21 years ago at Gunn. He then transferred to Escondido Elementary School, then Walter Hays, then Fletcher Middle School, and finally found his place at Paly.
Hildago said working at all of these schools has given him the chance to build connections that might not have formed had he only worked in one location.
“When I worked at Walter Hays, [the students] were all elementary school kids. Coming here to Paly, they were all here, juniors or seniors, it was cool to see everyone grow up, looking forward to college.”
According to Hildago, his favorite part of the job is the community and being comfortable with everybody.
He often recognizes parents of students who went to the elementary schools he worked at previously and strikes up conversations with them.
One example of a student Hildago has connected with is Paly alum and former Campanile writer Raj Lele, who first met Hildago when he was in elementary school at Walter Hays and connected with him again at production last year.
“He’s just a fun spirited guy, not one of those janitors who just kind of kept to himself and was always trying to be involved with the students. He was probably one of the best Paly has ever seen, he was great at what he did and just a nice guy to be around.”
Journalsim teacher Brian Wilson has become well acquainted with Hilgado over the past two years, working with him extensively in the MAC, where production for Paly journalism publications takes place.
“[Hildago] cares about students, he cares about his colleagues and about the building in ways that put him in a spot where it’s more than just a job,” Wilsonsaid. “He’s actually someone who excels at his job, in part because he cares so much about the people in the building.”
But after all the students leave at the end of the day, Hildago’s day is not even half over. He works at another job from 7 a.m. to noon as part of the global security team at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, then comes to Paly to work at 3 p.m. until 11 p.m.
Though Hildago said he could not say much about his job with Apple due to a non-disclosure agreement, he said it is a great job that shows him the difference in culture between a corporate, high-intensity work environment and the more casual world of Paly.
The contrast between his two jobs provides him with a greater appreciation for both cultures.
When asked why he has both jobs, Hildago responded, “Number one, because we’re in Silicon Valley; everything’s expensive. And number two, I needed a change, I wanted another occupation and I had time to do it,” Hildago said.
As to why Hildago continues to work at Paly, he said,“It’s more like a family when I come here. It’s a little more homey, I feel comfortable being here. And I think over time, with Apple, it’ll happen too.”
Hildago works Monday through Friday on this heavy schedule, but makes sure to keep his weekends free for his family, including his two kids. He has a 24-year-old in the Navy and the other a senior at Bellarmine College Preparatory.
“I still have family, little ones growing up, and they want me to be at their birthday parties and it’s kinda hard to say no. With that said, I just knew I had to get the weekends off to attend all of my family functions.”
But even with all of the strenuous work, Hildago finds the best in the job, with one of the most memorable parts of working at Paly is graduation.
“I will never forget the graduations,” Hildago said. “[They play] a big part, working the year with the kids and you come to this one last day and they’re graduating as seniors and this is probably the last day you will see them. Throughout the years, you make this connection with them and all of a sudden they’re gone. They would come up to me and say, ‘Albert, thank you very much.’ And I’m just doing my job.”
In addition to chatting with students, Hildago has also built relationships within the custodial team. “I was a really young person [when I first started] and most of the guys here were [a lot] older,” Wes Sleck, one of Hildago’s coworkers for the past decade, said. “He was one of the only people who was really nice and really helped me when I got here… he is always willing to help, always in a good mood and always smiling,” Sleck said.
Custodians have the tendency to be overlooked and underappreciated, but Hildago says that this has gotten better over the years, with PTA dinners and finally getting more of the recognition and acknowledgement they deserve.
“One thing I want to say is this [group’s] teamwork is phenomenal,” Hildago said. “We’re here to get the job done, but at the same time we would like to see, not recognition in terms of awards or anything, but if the students see what we do around here, we’re pretty much like the backbone of the staff, you know. Support your custodians. Acknowledge them a bit more and be accountable for your own stuff.”