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OKOTOKIAN: Custodial team turns in sparkling effort

“We do have a sense of accomplishment knowing our kids are safe, staff are safe.”

The leader of a team that keeps an Okotoks school virtually spotless during these COVID-19 days is armed with a secret weapon.

That weapon looks like something Bill Murray used to kill a gigantic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. In fact, the new tool has earned the moniker: The Ghostbuster.

“We have a new machine, an electrostatic sprayer and I can go in a classroom and disinfect the chairs,” said Chad Anderson, the head custodian at St. John Paul II Collegiate School. “I’ll do the entire school, the handrails, shop, band room… It is pretty busy in the morning to get things ready for the students.”

The Ghostbuster is just one of the tools the four-person custodial team at the Grade 7 to 9 St. John Paul II Collegiate has in its arsenal. The main tools are ones that can’t be picked up at a store -- teamwork, dedication and pride in its work. And while the team was always an integral part of the school, its responsibilities peaked when students returned to school in September.

“They are amazing,” SJPII principal Marco Pacione said of the custodians. “To begin with, our school, just visually, is sparkling.

“Chad and his team have always done an amazing job. Since Sept. 1, there is additional stress on them and I know they see that responsibility and the role they play to keep everyone safe.”

The custodial team got high marks during a provincial safety inspection in October.

“We got a complete thumb’s up,” Pacione said. “To have an auditor give his outside perspective that our custodians and the rest of staff are helping keep our kids safe is an excellent affirmation that everybody is chipping in and doing a great job.”

The team consists of Anderson, Audrey Kennedy, Scott Harper and Mike Schwytky.

Anderson starts his day at 7 a.m., with Kennedy coming in at 2 p.m. to help with end of school day help. Meanwhile, when the students are gone, Kennedy, Harper and Schwytky are hard at work getting the school ready for the next day.

It’s a team effort that runs well past when the students have left the school.

“They (the night crew) usually start at around 3:30 p.m. and we will discuss what I think they need to know for the evening,” Anderson said. “That would be like making sure the paper products (paper towels) and hand dispensers are full.”

As well, if there is anything that needs repairs, a note is left for Anderson.

They are also giving the school a thorough scrubbing – prior to Anderson coming into start his duties.

Anderson admitted he felt some added pressure when students returned to school in September full time. It means getting down to work as soon as he enters the school at around 7 a.m.

“I have a checklist that I will follow to make sure that I get all the push bars, handles, anything that the kids will touch I wash all that, disinfect it all,” Anderson said.

The bathrooms are cleaned four times a day.

There is another important part of the team. The approximately 750 students attending the school.

“They have been really good,” Anderson said. “They have been good about the social distancing and they are wearing their masks so we don’t feel like we are in any kind of danger.”

The students also aren’t afraid to use a little elbow grease, said David Lunn, Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools director of facilities and maintenance.

“Each student is given a bottle and we put soap and water in it,” Lunn said. “Through the day, they do the cleaning of the desk. That helps us immensely. So, at the end of the day, the cleaning has been done and we can do the disinfecting.”

But these are junior high students – some will clean the desks better than others.

“I know some of them are playing with them (the bottles) but the teachers are ensuring they clean the desks before they leave,” Anderson said with a chuckle.

The school has also taken steps to ensure students aren’t taking as many steps in the hallways. Rather than students going from room to room for change of class with a different teacher, instead the teachers are switching classroom while the students stay put as much as possible.

The teachers aren’t the only ones on the move. When the second bell rings at 10:30 a.m., Anderson is up like a boxer leaving his corner to take on his or her opponent.

Except he is fighting any germs or grime that might be hanging around.

“That’s when I do an entire disinfection of the schools – the hallways, the bathrooms, the handles,” Anderson said. “I go up one hallway and then I come back. I keep myself busy doing that for much of the day.”

Not quite all day. He gets pulled away from his duties to do the little jobs that helped the school receive its high rating from the government.

“I usually have three or four things going on at once,” Anderson said. “I will get a call on the radio that somebody needs something – fill a disinfectant or a hand sanitizer.”

That is just the scheduled part of the routine.

Anderson got pulled away from his duties on Oct. 8.

“Someone (a staff member) went into a closet and accidentally pushed a button on and turned the fan on and it made a loud noise and they were worried,” Anderson said.

As well, Anderson has to clean the isolation room after it has been used. The isolation room is a small six-by-six-foot room where a student sits if he or she shows any COVID-19 symptoms.

With a schedule that can change literally with a push of a button or a teen’s sniffle, the custodial team has a checklist as mandated by Alberta Health Services that would rival the one prior to a NASA launch.

“We have to hit a bathroom three or four times a day and initial when that was done,” Lunn said. “We have to initial when we clean and sanitize a classroom.”

Anything that may get touched – the buttons for the water dispensers to fill bottles for examples – is wiped down again and again.

Proper procedures and materials are used to make the custodians feel safe.

“I wear my mask and I have my gloves on, so I am fine with it and the product that we have is safe,” Anderson said.

Safety is the name of the game, but if COVID-19 can hit the president of the United States or the best soccer player in the world, there is no guarantee it won’t come to a facility with more than 700 students and staff.

“I don’t think about it often,” Anderson said. “I have a few health issues, autoimmune issues and that is a little bit on my mind, but I am pretty confident at the school. Everything is going very smoothly and people here are following the rules.”

Students have to wear masks while in hallways and crowded areas, their hands are also sprayed with sanitizers before he enters the school.

He admits the ante has been upped in regards to the custodial team’s duties.

And the school community has noticed.

“I’ve had a few parents come up to me and say: ‘Thank-you for making sure our kids are safe and doing all the work that you are doing,’’’ Anderson said. “You don’t usually get that kind of recognition.

“We do have a sense of accomplishment knowing our kids are safe, staff are safe.”

Lunn said the trust from the community is indicative in the enrolment numbers at Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools.

“Some of the bigger boards they were down 20 per cent because of kids going online,” Lunn said. “We are down four or five per cent.

“There is a huge trust in the local parent group of putting their kids back in the school.”

The team provides the principal with something he needs – some peace of mind.

“Absolutely, Chad’s so well organized and so diligent with his daily tasks — they definitely provide me with some peace of mind,” Pacione said.

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