'A lot is different': St. Mary's faculty, students take on new cleaning roles

NOW: ’A lot is different’: St. Mary’s faculty, students take on new cleaning roles


NILES, Mich. - Most schools hire a janitorial staff that's tasked with keeping the school spotless for students and staff members, but at one Niles school cleaning is done a little differently.

Teachers at St. Mary's Catholic School in Niles are taking the team approach to cleaning. A little elbow grease is going a long way to show their colleagues, parents, and students how much they care about everyone's safety.

When you walk into St. Mary's you'll find the Principal sitting right outside the only restrooms in the building. As students come out, you can hear her asking "Closest to the window or sink?"

That's so she knows which stall to clean.

"So I know that if it's still up, it hasn't been used yet. So the ones that are down, I just kind of come in and I have the solar guard, which is EPA approved. And then spray the flusher," Leslie Conyers, the school's principal said. "Six times a day, yes. If not more.”

Cleaning is a lot different for Conyers and her staff.

"A lot is different from cleaning this year. Only because this is obviously everybody's first time being in school during a pandemic. But because our maintenance staff is contracted through the public school, they don't arrive to our building until after school ends," she said.

The cleaning staff is hired by the local public schools and they can only come at 4 p.m. each day.

"They come in with the heavy equipment, so to say, and everything is scrubbed down, completely sanitized, and then ready for us to use it the next day," she said. “So the secretary, myself and the teachers take on a lot of the cleaning. Desktops, doorknobs, light switches, markers, anything like that.”

Staff clean high-touch surfaces four times a day.

"And then for the bathrooms, Mrs. Haynes and I, the secretary, we kind of monitor that," Conyers said. “That's why you'll see my desk out in the hallway, covered I sit out there. And Mrs. Haynes has the security cameras in her office so she can kind of see, we've, um, for the first week of school, we were going in every single time a child came out of the bathroom, and we're cleaning and then we found okay, we still have stuff we have to get done. So we kind of limited to it. So now we're doing at least three times in the morning and then three times after lunch. But if we happen to notice that there's a big surge of students going to the bathroom, then we'll go in and clean.”

You can hear one student say “I’m going potty.” And Conyers replies “ok go potty.”

“It's just another hat honestly," she said.

But the planning started back in March.

"Just kind of working our way up to this and being able to reopen, and some of the guidelines from our diocese, and of course, from the state, and we just want to make sure that we have the safest environment for our students," she said.

The teachers document their daily cleaning just to show accountability.

"If anybody has any questions we can pull it out and say yes," she said.

"At first I was nervous about it. But then once it became routine, it got a lot easier," Katie Landgraf, a 2nd and 3rd-grade teacher said.

Landgraf has been a teacher at St. Mary's for 5 years.

“It's definitely been a lot different. We do a lot more cleaning this year, we have to clean our room four times a day. So we've got four scheduled cleaning times that we do where everybody wipes down desks, then all the high touch surfaces in my areas," she said.

When our team entered a classroom, all of the students were cleaning their desk.

"All of us needs to clean very well because so we can like do the sides of the legs so we don’t spread covid-19 around us because you’ll get very sick," one student said.

“We take temperatures every day, which is a little different to we take them as the kids come in the morning and then at lunchtime," Landgraf said.

"This is the most important job right there. Sanitizer," another student said.

"My favorite is sub because we get to help other people clean their desks if they’re not here," another student said.

Students get points for different cleaning tasks each day.

“The teachers have worked really well with their students. They've gone over handwashing procedures, making sure that they're scrubbing their hands for at least 20 seconds. They've gone over the high touch surfaces and what that means and why it's important to keep them clean," Conyers said.

Everyone works together to make a safe environment. 

"It’s good. So the germs are off your desk," another student said.

"Because we don't want our room to get messy? Because it's a safe means to clean up our desk the floor and everything," another student said.

“Parents and guardians trust us with their most precious gifts. So we have to make sure that we are taking our best care of them," Conyers said.

Conyers said both kids and parents have responded positively. 

"Yeah, the parents are very happy that they know that we're doing everything we can to keep their kids safe. And the students, god bless them, they just roll with the punches," she said.

Of course, being a smaller private catholic school helps with cleaning procedures but it definitely does add more work to the plate.

As always, if you have questions or concerns regarding your school or if you have a story idea at all, reach out to us! Email us at learningcurve@abc57.com.

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