School & District Management In Their Own Words

‘Kind of Surreal': A Student Cleans Floors at Her Old Middle School

By Catherine Gewertz — December 16, 2021 3 min read
Northwest High School sophomore Emily Downs, 15, takes out the trash at Valley Middle School in House Springs, Mo., on Dec. 14, 2021. As staff shortages impact school districts across the country, Northwest School District, outside of St. Louis, hired its own students to fill some of their vacancies.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Across the country, schools are struggling with staffing shortages aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and larger dynamics in the economy. One district outside St. Louis appears to be the first to use students to fill some of those positions. Northwest School District has hired 20 students to work part-time in childcare, food-service, and custodial jobs. Emily Downs, 15, a sophomore at Northwest High School, is one of them. She’s cleaning offices and classrooms at her old middle school for $10.15 per hour. It’s her first job. She spoke with Education Week about it. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

I’m working as a student custodian at Valley Middle School. I started my job last Monday. Currently, I’m working five days a week. I get to pick my own hours, whatever works for me. I’m able to take time off when I need to.

I get on the bus after school and I just get off at the middle school. I clock in at about 2:45, and most days I get off work about six o’clock. They’re more flexible with students’ schedules because they know that high school students are involved in a lot. So two days a week I’m able to get off at five. I have church youth group, and some days I also have to come home and watch one of my twin sisters while my mom takes the other one to ballet practice.

I go around [in offices and classrooms] and dust, mop the room, make sure there’s no dirt left on the floor. I empty all the pencil sharpeners, pick up and take out the trash, put new trash bags in. Something we do because of COVID is we fog the room. It’s this disinfectant chemical. I spray it all around the room. I also clean off teachers’ whiteboards. It’s really not bad. Cleaning the bathrooms is the worst part, but even that’s not that bad. I mean, I’ve done it.

I’ve gotten to know several of the custodians [at my high school], and they seem really nice. I just wanted to be able to help out, like keep the schools nice.

I mean, it’s kind of crazy [working at my old school]. It’s a lot different than it was when I left a couple years ago. Most of the teachers are different. One of the principals isn’t there anymore. There’s a lot more murals in the hallways; the art club has painted all over the lockers. It’s really cool.

It’s kind of a mix of feelings like I’m going back in time, and feeling like, holy cow, I’m getting old, because I have a job now. And I’m seeing some teachers that I had in like 6th grade, and I’m seeing them walking around the hallways, but now I’m working! And I see these other students walking around and I’ll say hi to them and it’s like, you’re only a couple years younger than me! That’s crazy. This could still be my school.

Northwest High School sophomore Emily Downs, 15, stands for a portrait during her custodial shift at Northwest Valley Middle School in House Springs, Mo., Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. As staff shortages impact school districts across the country, Northwest School District, outside of St. Louis, hired its own students to fill some of their vacancies.

I really wasn’t looking for a job. [The job fair] showed up in my email, and I thought this could be a really good opportunity. Because it gets me started into seeing what working is like, seeing the work world before I’m 18 and trying to get a larger scale job.

Like recently, the other custodian wasn’t there, and I had to cover her rooms, and those were the days I had to leave early at five o’clock in order to make it home or to church on time. It really taught me how to figure things out, get it all done, quickly and efficiently.

See also

Northwest High School junior Savannah Darner, 16, cleans an office at Northwest Valley Middle School in House Springs, Mo., on Dec. 14, 2021. As staff shortages impact school districts across the country, Northwest School District, outside of St. Louis, hired its own students to fill some of their vacancies.
Savannah Darner, 16, cleans an office at Valley Middle School in House Springs, Mo., where she works part-time as a custodian. Savannah, a junior, is one of several students who recently began working for the Northwest School District to help fill vacancies in food service, childcare, and custodial services.
Whitney Curtis for Education Week

It’s still kind of surreal, almost. But it’s definitely a confidence boost. Just knowing that you’re putting yourself out there and you’re doing something to help out, actually like getting involved in, your community, getting a job.

I notice something different every day. It just makes it cool. That’s part of the fun aspect of it, getting to see all the changes that the students and staff keep making, each day. Just getting to see that can make it enjoyable. Like, there are several paintings in progress on the lockers, and I get to see the little [bits of] progress they’ve made on those [each day]. I see what teachers are doing with their classrooms. I just get to see how everything works from day to day.

It’s crazy that what started out as what a lot of people would view as like the worst year ever just gave me a job.

Events

School & District Management Webinar How Pensions Work: Why It Matters for K-12 Education
Panelists explain the fundamentals of teacher pension finances — how they are paid for, what drives their costs, and their impact on K-12 education.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
Strategies for Incorporating SEL into Curriculum
Empower students to thrive. Learn how to integrate powerful social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies into the classroom.
Content provided by Be GLAD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion Don’t Just Listen to the Loudest Voices: Resources for Ed. Leaders
These resources can help school and district leaders communicate with their communities.
Jennifer Perry Cheatham & Jenny Portillo-Nacu
5 min read
A pair of hands type on a blank slate of keys that are either falling apart or coming together on a bed of sharpened pencils.  Leadership resources.
Raul Arias for Education Week
School & District Management The Harm of School Closures Can Last a Lifetime, New Research Shows
The short-term effects on students when their schools close have been well documented. New research examines the long-term impact.
5 min read
Desks and chairs are stacked in an empty classroom after the permanent closure of Queen of the Rosary Catholic Academy in Brooklyn borough of New York on Aug. 6, 2020.
Desks and chairs are stacked in an empty classroom after the permanent closure of Queen of the Rosary Catholic Academy in Brooklyn borough of New York on Aug. 6, 2020. A new study examines the long-term effects on students whose schools close.
Jessie Wardarski/AP
School & District Management Video 'Students Never Forget': Principals Call for Help After School Shootings
School leaders are lobbying Congress for more financial support for schools that experience gun violence.
2 min read
Forest High School students console one another after a school shooting at Forest High School Friday, April 20, 2018 in Ocala, Fla. One student shot another in the ankle at the high school and a suspect is in custody, authorities said Friday. The injured student was taken to a local hospital for treatment.
Forest High School students console one another after a school shooting at Forest High School Friday, April 20, 2018 in Ocala, Fla. One student shot another in the ankle at the high school and a suspect is in custody, authorities said Friday. The injured student was taken to a local hospital for treatment.
Doug Engle/Star-Banner via AP
School & District Management Opinion In School Leadership, Busy Is a Given. Chaos Is a Choice
There will never be enough time, money, or resources to solve every problem in education, so we must learn to operate within constraints.
Kate Hazarian
3 min read
Two hands attempt to hold chaos.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva