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Custodians form backbone of school

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Art by Kate Xia

As the sun sets, a gradual wave of darkness spreads across campus. But for custodian Albert Hidalgo Balcita, the lights stay on, guiding him from classroom to classroom as he and 12 other custodians return each messy room to its pristine condition by the next morning.

Balcita said he works to maintain a school environment where students can thrive and be the most productive.

But Balcita said his job involves more than just cleaning classrooms.

“There are a lot of moving parts involved in supporting the school,” Balcita said. “Our job is more about offering customer service to students, teachers and staff. We like to call ourselves the backbone of Paly because a lot of people depend on us.”

As the newest addition to the 13-person team, custodian Andrew Huoch said he relies on support from other staff.

“There are some days that are crazy, but I just work on building my relationship with the other custodians here,” Huoch said. “There’s always this positive energy and teamwork among the staff members and students here.”

At the same time, however, Balcita said the custodians sometimes encounter issues that create a more difficult environment for them to work in.

“The only negative part of our job is dealing with graffiti in restrooms,” Balcita said. “All that does is just add to our day. A couple of years ago, we would clean off the graffiti in the bathroom one day, and then the next day, it would just be right back.”

And Junior Aarohi Shah said although students might be aware that what they are doing will affect the custodians, they do not fully understand the effects of their actions.

“Sometimes people might think, ‘This is gonna be hard for the custodians to clean up,’ but they don’t tend to actually help clean up and make their jobs easier,” Shah said.

Despite these encounters, Balcita said the custodians do not let these situations distract them from completing their work in an efficient manner.

“We just like to keep moving forward,” Balcita said. “We don’t let any kind of negativity get to us, and we don’t let it sidetrack us in our work.”

Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson said, no matter the circumstances, the custodians are always more than willing to take on extra work to improve Paly’s conditions.

“We have the best custodial staff in the district by far,” Berkson said. “Every day, they get up to do their service with a smile and no problem. In fact, when it comes from me, I think they almost react too quickly because they just jump on things immediately.”

Balcita said although working for Paly and seeing students enjoy the classrooms and buildings maintained by the custodians is rewarding in itself, receiving positive comments makes his day.

“Anytime we get some kind of positive feedback from work we’ve done before, it really makes us feel good,” Balcita said. “We don’t get a pat on our back every day, but we do get it every once in a while, and it feels great.”

But Huoch said students often lack respect for custodial staff though their job is centered around creating a functional school for students to succeed in.

“I think about how hard the custodians work for the students, but some students just don’t care, and they just leave trash all over the place or don’t listen to what we say,” Huoch said.

Shah said because most students do not know who the custodians are personally, they treat the custodians less respectfully.

“People don’t interact with the custodians as much, so indirectly they don’t show them the respect that they deserve for cleaning our campus,” Shah said. “And because some people don’t have a face to put to the custodians, they don’t tend to treat them the way that they shouldn’t be treated.”

Balcita said this situation is due to a lack of awareness and knowledge about custodians being spread throughout the Paly community.

“Not every student knows or sees what a custodian does, so they just view us as custodians,” Balcita said. “I think (change) starts out with teamwork and communication in the classroom about what custodians do and our impact on the school.”

To show appreciation for the custodians, Berkson said students should take more care of the school environment and not make the already labor-intensive job of custodians even more challenging.

“Students can make the custodians’ lives a lot better by keeping the bathrooms clean and throwing away their garbage,” Berkson said. “Students should just continue to do what they’re supposed to do, and I don’t think that is asking that much.”

Shah said students do not fully appreciate the work that custodians do and should not rely on the custodians to clean up after them.

“People should act as if the custodians aren’t there and keep the campus clean, and the custodians will do their part to make it even nicer,” Shah said. “But don’t make it their job to do the basic things like picking up your trash because you couldn’t be bothered to toss into the nearest trash can.”

Although his job can be difficult and frustrating when students do not clean up, Balcita said he always recognizes when they help out.

“Whether it’s walking from classroom to classroom or even after school, if students can walk past and pick up a piece of trash and throw it in the trash bin, we would be more than thankful,” Balcita said. “Because when that’s not done, who does it? We do.”

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Kate Xia
Kate Xia, Lifestyle & Science/Tech Editor
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