A Spotlight: How the Janitorial Staff Are Essential to Briar Woods


Dianne Barahona Bonilla, Reporter

They work while we doze off in our classes, waiting for the day to end. As we walk in the squeaky-clean hallways, we sometimes see glimpses of the navy blue uniforms pushing the same supply cart down the hall. But are they really seen? A custodian’s work is almost never noticed unless there is a problem. How many times has there been a complete disaster in a classroom or bathroom and – Poof – it’s gone the very next day? 

And how many times have students said the two simplest words? 

Thank you. 

Custodial work is one of the most physical and mentally demanding. Custodians average $24,651 a year, a few thousand short of the Virginia poverty line. Their job – to clean the school building – is broken down into several tasks a day: cleaning the floors, emptying trash cans, cleaning vents, and sustaining an orderly inventory. Although it appears to be a series of unchallenging tasks, students underestimate the chaotic demands placed upon them. 

Ana Perez is a former custodian who worked for LCPS for 25 years. When interviewed about her job experience, she said “[she] loved [her] job; [she] thought of the kids as [her] own children” and “sometimes it hurt seeing them mock [her] accent, so [she] eventually stopped talking.” She recalls a time, working in middle school, when she heard a table of students laugh at her when she asked for their trash. Perez felt “hurt; [she] knew [her] English wasn’t the best, but [she] tried very hard.” She ultimately resigned and went on to become an English translator, providing for her eight grandchildren. 

Not only do custodians suffer from discrimination in the workplace but disregard as well. Current custodian Lydia De León said that “the day was going fairly well” that is, until she entered the boys’ bathroom and found “multiple oranges shoved in the toilet bowl and toilet paper stuck on the ceiling.” De León spent two hours cleaning the bathroom only to encounter the same situation the next day. She affirms working as a janitor requires a strong stomach and a great amount of patience. Once the principal heard of the news, the bathroom was immediately closed 20 minutes after lunch and those responsible were severely punished. 

Because the perception of the job is poor, many students, including staff, fail to appreciate the effort that goes into maintaining a clean school environment. Briar Woods is fortunate to have such a caring and thorough janitorial faculty cleaning up after the gum wrappers on the floor, oranges in toilets, and toilet-paper rockets on the ceiling. Whether it be a simple hello or a warm smile, our silent heroes deserve recognition, especially with COVID, compelling them to work ten times as hard to keep everyone safe. The next time you or a friend misses that NBA-worthy shot into the garbage can, do our noble cleaning staff a favor… pick it up and throw it away.