A hidden hero
March 30, 2017
The clock in the hallway reads three p.m., and a small red light clicks on in each classroom at Wenatchee High School. It is a cloudless Friday, and students disperse out the exits of the school, eager for a glimpse of the bright sun and a breath of fresh spring air. None of them have the past week in mind, they all think to their future weekend of adventure. Inside the school, teachers take a deep breath of decompression; their week of hard work is over. However, just as their work is coming to an end, another team’s is just beginning. The custodian crew commences their afternoon work, which will last long into the evening. This shift is led by Perry Roth, and with his guidance this team of five custodians will cover every square inch of the school so that by the time the anxious students return to school the following week, the floors will shine and each bathroom will be miraculously clean. Roth begins his work with a smile, he may be working in a silent school, but his work goes far beyond cleaning an empty building; it creates a safe, clean and productive environment for the students and staff of WHS.
The Job Description
How does a custodian’s day begin, you may ask? The answer isn’t definitive, according to Roth. Custodians work one of three shifts; the morning shift, from 6:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m, evening, from 2:30 p.m. until 11:00 p.m., and the graveyard shift, from 5:00 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. In the morning, the custodians begin by cleaning the cafeteria area and surrounding departments in order to prepare for the ever-approaching influx of students. Following this, the diligent workers clean each area that wasn’t finished the night before. This portion of the job is frequented by Roth, the “assistant lead” of the custodial department. As the school day wraps up, the custodians begin their biggest task of all: cleaning up from the long day and preparing for the next. In addition to this heavy workload, the department is also responsible for keeping up on problematic issues that spring up in the building. If a large problem arises, a work order is filled out and sent to the maintenance department, their counterparts. Even with work spread out between three shifts, each custodian works at least 40 hours per week, with the addition of overtime, which can compound into a large number of hours, according to Roth. Overtime can come in the form of cleaning up after dances, competitions, shows, or other events that are held at WHS. Roth pointed out that the extra events on the weekends can cause trouble.
“We cover very large areas, so if there are a lot of events it can really restrict us on how much time we actually have for cleaning,” Roth said.
Drawn to the Job
Roth’s journey to WHS began about seven years ago, when his brother-in-law, who was a custodian in the Eastmont School District at the time, told him about the perks of being a custodian. Seeking some stability that was absent in his seasonal jobs, Roth eventually found a job doing the “graveyard” shift as a custodian for the Wenatchee School District. Admittedly, Roth never even considered a job as a custodian prior to this.
“I never, ever thought about being a custodian until I checked into it, and it turned out to be very interesting. Every day is really different,” said Roth.
Starting from the bottom, working from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., Roth worked his way up the ladder with determination, eventually becoming “assistant lead”, and manager of the afternoon shift. When asked about his favorite part of his job, Roth pointed out that the constant activity and variety as being a custodian makes the job rewarding.
“I really like the social interaction with everybody, and I really like being busy,” Roth said.
One of the more unknown and most difficult parts of being a custodian is summer cleaning, according to Roth. Instead of having the majority of the summer off like many teachers and faculty, custodians capitalize on this time when no one is in the school to deep-clean the floors and walls, move furniture, and refurbish the worn fixings throughout the school.
“Every year when school gets out, we’re greeted by all the teachers leaving saying, ‘Have a great summer!’ and they don’t realize that this is when we get into our deep cleaning and heavy work,” Roth said about teachers’ ironic view of the custodian department’s summer.
This “heavy-lifting” period is consistently one of the more physically demanding times of the year. According to Roth, it requires the entire team to work together to cleanse the entire school of the beating it takes each year from 180 days of constant wear-and-tear. Inversely, however, summer cleaning is also the most rewarding portion of the year according to Roth. From start to finish, the utter transformation of the entire school, even simply one room, is as satisfying as it gets.
“You look back and see the gleaming floors that most people never see. They’re freshly waxed and shining. We’re [the custodial department] the ones that when we get done, we get to turn around and look, and it really makes you feel good, like you made such a big difference,” Roth said of the fulfillment he gets after summer cleaning is over.
When asked about the most frustrating part of being a custodian at WHS, Roth broke into a smile. As his mouth opened to answer, his response seemed obvious; the bathrooms. He cited the uncleanly and often misused bathrooms as the source of much redundant and unnecessary work by the custodians. Instead of being negative, however, he was sure to focus on the positive effects of trashed bathrooms.
“We appreciate people taking care of the bathrooms. Some people just trash them. We don’t have enough restroom area for people to trash them out,” said Roth
Another difficulty for the custodians comes in the form of spontaneous flocks of gum on the floors; their stickiness can make them very laborious to remove from the smooth floors of WHS. Other problematic issues come in forms of time management, as it is oftentimes a time crunch to clean the entire school each day in an extremely limited number of hours, according to Roth. How does the department deal with this constant stress? With a lighthearted personality and positive attitude, according to Roth.
“A sense of humor is important, really,” stressed Roth.
Moments and Memories
With seven years of experience at WHS, Roth has seen and dealt with countless hardships and successes. According to him, the most arduous was dealing with the effects of the wildfires that threatened Wenatchee in the fall of 2012. With the ventilation system useless from an excess of smoke, with numerous firefighters using WHS as a base camp, combined with the beginning of the school year, the scene was chaotic. In the midst of it all, Roth and the rest of the custodians had the job of fixing the HVAC system to create a safe environment for all of the students, in addition to their day-to-day jobs.
“This building [WHS] got smoked out…That was really bad, probably the worst thing I’ve seen here,” Roth added.
However, Roth’s tenure has also been dotted with various high points. To Roth, this wasn’t a standout moment or day, but an entire year. One year, Roth was moved off the “graveyard” shift and into a day shift. In this process he was assigned a post in the English department, where he had an office in a custodian’s supply room inside of the Journalism classroom. Coincidentally, his daughter, a senior at WHS, was a reporter for The Apple Leaf at that time, too. Roth recalls being able to see his daughter, now a professional journalist, work on her articles each day.
“I got to come to work each day and see her work on the computer. That was the year I liked the best because I always got to see my daughter working on her projects,” Roth said.
In talking with Roth, the love for his job and his positive work ethic are easy to see. With a smile on his face, and a purposeful walk, Roth is able to easily deal with spontaneous issues and tasks, ranging from summer cleaning, to bathroom cleaning, to the leadership structure of his occupation. However, Roth’s personal viewpoint of his job goes far beyond any self-gain. Instead, he offers a mantra of humility and service, one that defines his purpose as a custodian at WHS.
“We consider the staff and students as our customers, we work to please our customers,” Roth said.