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Perseverance in the Pandemic: FBE custodians keep their school clean

(BCSD video by Dan Michener -


Published on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021

custodian mopping cafeteria

Foxbank Elementary’s head custodian, Elizabeth Smalls, has a heart for children.

Smalls has worked as a custodian a total of eight years, and she is still somewhat new to Foxbank Elementary – she joined more than six months ago. She previously worked at a few different schools including Macedonia Middle, Cane Bay High and Whitesville Elementary.

She is a mother herself, and said one really needs to have a heart for children in order to work in a school setting.

“I love their smiles,” she said, adding, “You never know what our kids are dealing with, especially since the pandemic.”

Smalls is part of a group of five custodians at the school. She said they are understaffed, but she works with a great team that is working hard to keep the school clean in the midst of a pandemic.

“You would think, even though we are short-staffed, you would think it was like maybe 10 of us – that’s how good we are,” she said.


Staying organized

Allowing students back in the buildings meant all of BCSD’s custodial staff members had to step up their game as far as disinfecting protocols.

As part of the district safety measures, custodians are staying after school after the students have left to disinfect classrooms and clean surfaces that are frequently touched throughout the day (like doorknobs).

Smalls said her day starts at 6:30 a.m. and the entire custodial team is assembled by 10 a.m.

They stay at the school until 7 p.m., so for Smalls in particular, it is more than 12 hours of work being put into keeping the school clean – “but it’s working,” she said.

It is a tough job fulfilled by a small custodial team, but Smalls said they work exceptionally hard, and they do it together.

“It’s pretty rough, because you have some of the students who are getting sick – but we are on it,” she said.

When she makes her daily rounds at the school, Smalls checks on her teammates to make sure they are doing what she planned for that day.

“It's about planning for tomorrow, it's about staying ahead of each day,” she said, noting this is normal for planning, but with the pandemic, planning has become “more intense.”


Deep cleaning

While they disinfect classrooms every day, custodians have to take some extra steps anytime there is a report of a COVID case: this is when the custodians put on the electrostatic sprayer backpacks to further clean a classroom – Smalls said her custodial staff refers to the equipment as their “Ghostbuster gear”.

“That’s what we would consider like a deep clean, like if we have an outbreak in a classroom…at the end of the day we really have to go in and give it a deep clean, especially with the spray,” Smalls said.

The custodians dress in protective gear as they do a deep clean – gloves, masks, gowns and head coverings. Smalls said they take it very seriously as they want anything receiving a deep cleaning to be safe enough for anybody to return the next day.

There are three steps: the first is sanitizing any infected area down with a handheld spray solution. The second part is getting in there with the rejuvenal spray gun, which will help sanitize any furniture. The third and final part is doing a final spray with the electrostatic sprayer backpack, which sprays the whole room.

The sprayers provide an electrical charge to the cleaning solution, allowing them to wrap conductive surfaces with an effective and even coverage.

Once they finish spraying a classroom or area, the custodians close it off for the remainder of the day, and nobody goes back in until the next school day.

This is on top of the regular duties the custodians do throughout the day – cleaning up bathrooms, collecting garbage and other list items.

“Now we added on a deep cleaning…for our lives, for safety,” Smalls said.

 custodian rolling trashcans in hallway

Keeping faith

Smalls is a big believer in teamwork all around, and that if there is ever an issue her team finds a way to work it out.

It might be different with the pandemic, but Smalls said her team is stronger than COVID.

“We are fighters – courageous,” she said. “We are powerful.”

Michael Kearise is the newest member of the custodian group; he started at Foxbank Elementary this school year. He was previously in the steel industry and made a career change to join Foxbank Elementary. He considers himself “the ham” of the group.

Kearise is a father and a grandfather who draws inspiration from the students, as well as the teachers.

He also comes from a family of teachers; his daughter, sister and brothers are all teachers. Now that he is part of an elementary school, he gets to see how the pandemic affects teachers.

“They have a hard job too because you have so many personalities and kids and stuff like that,” he said.

Kearise said he thinks the hardest part of working around COVID is always facing the possibility of catching it.

Smalls and Kearise are both spiritual people, who regularly pray for their own safety and the safety of others.

“With prayer and hope…we just keep moving,” Kearise said.

Kearise said his team would want parents to know that Foxbank Elementary’s custodians are conscious of the ongoing issues with the pandemic, and they are doing their best.

“We have a totally great staff,” Kearise said, adding, “I would want parents to know their kids are in a safe environment.”

custodian with fresh trash bag



Monica Kreber