The custodians at M-A work tirelessly each day to keep our campus clean, make sure events function smoothly, and much more. In honor of Custodian Appreciation Day today, we walked around campus to interview our custodians and hear about their daily lives and responsibilities, allowing us to better understand the people that make M-A the school that it is. Here are the profiles of people who agreed to be interviewed.
Shown in far right of cover photo
Claudia has been part of the M-A community since her teenage years. She graduated from M-A and later decided to return to campus after seeing a job opening. This is her fifth year on the job. Espinoza says her daily routine involves “setting up an event, breaking down the event, and cleaning up the room.”
Espinoza spoke about her experience as a staff member amidst the pandemic: “Oh my gosh. We were disinfecting everything. We even had some product that was so strong, so had to stop us from using it.” When no students were on campus, Espinoza and other custodians stayed on campus to clean and disinfect. She said, “It was a little scarier in the beginning. We didn’t know how to go about the pandemic. So even if no one was here, we cleaned everything.”
When asked why Espinoza returned to M-A, she said, “Honestly, the M-A school community is much more open-minded than I remember as a student.” She said there are mental health resources available at M-A now that she wishes she had access to when she was a student. “Teachers are so much more supportive, and groups like B-22 for mental health would have been so beneficial when we were here.”
When asked what her favorite part of her job is, she replied with one word: “students.” She stated that students often offer to help her set up for events, so she sees “students that are involved in the rallies, graduation, or leadership, and I like when I get to help them since I didn’t get to really be involved in those things during high school. I find excitement in it.” She said, over the years, “I can see the people who were here when they were freshmen. I don’t know them personally, but I can just see the growth of the students.”
Espinoza’s advice to current students is, “Just enjoy it. There’s nothing wrong with getting involved with the programs, the games… It’s just an experience. I wish I would have gone to prom and stuff like that. Just soak it all in.”
When asked about how he feels about M-A, Brien Oliver said, “Taking care of M-A is like taking care of my own home. I look at everything and anything. I know it’s important to get everything fixed, keeping the place safe.”
Oliver has been working at M-A for more than 20 years and for our district since 1986. As the plant manager, he is in charge of overseeing daily operations and maintenance projects at M-A.
Growing up in East Palo Alto, Oliver said it felt natural for him to come and work here. “I had my eye on M-A for a long time,” he said. After his previous coworkers recommended he come to M-A, he joined and he has been here ever since. His own children graduated from M-A in 2004 and 2014.
Oliver recounted one of his most memorable moments at M-A: the rainout during a graduation around 15 years ago.
“The rain was so bad we had to help the kids onstage and offstage,” he said. The sudden downpour had prompted the
custodians to escort the students onstage to receive their diplomas.
Oliver expressed his immense pride in the M-A community, saying, “I really love the diversity of the student body. I love seeing the kids come and go, get out in the world and then come back to say hi.”
Juan Flores was only 12 years old when he fled his home country of El Salvador to come to the United States with his mother.
“My brother came first,” Flores said. “It was within that year that my dad got killed.”
Two years later, in 1982, he and his mother left the country. The guerillas had been recruiting adolescent boys like Flores to fight in the Salvadoran Civil War. Flores and his family settled in the United States, where he became a blueprint engineer, building blueprints and certifying computers while cleaning offices and banks part-time.
His wife, Ana Flores, was the one who had convinced him to begin working as a school custodian. She works as a paraprofessional at M-A, helping students with physical disabilities for the ILS program.
Juan Flores started working at M-A in 2014.
During the pandemic, he and the other custodians were in charge of general cleaning and disinfecting. “We went to all the classes and sprayed everything,” he says, “Every hour, we disinfected. It was a lot of work.” When students returned to campus, Flores and the other eleven custodians moved the furniture and placed plexiglass around every desk. They power-washed the buildings, scrubbing all the cement and the G-Wing area.
Flores and the other custodians continue to work hard every day, devoted to supporting and cleaning our school. When asked about things that students could do to help the custodians, Flores cited garbage and graffiti. “I don’t know if students don’t pay attention or they don’t want to do it,” Flores said, “but throwing your trash away will definitely be less of a hassle for us, that’s for sure.” Flores also expressed concern about students breaking soap dispensers in the bathrooms, saying that the custodians have still not been able to replace all of them.
Working together at M-A allows Flores, his wife, and his son, M-A junior Juan Flores Jr., to have matching schedules. Flores said, “At the time, the only reason I changed jobs was because of my family.”
In his fifth year working in the district, Abel Ruiz Jr. takes the Dumbarton Bridge every day from Fremont to get to campus. He started working at M-A when he became a father at 18. He said, “When I was 18, I was just trying to look for anything really. And this is a pretty good-paying job and has a union and pretty good benefits.” Ruiz first worked for one year as a substitute custodian in the District before becoming a custodian at M-A. He has worked at every District campus and says he likes the M-A campus best.
Ruiz said the most interesting event that happened while working at M-A was when “there was a fire going on behind the football field. Everyone had to evacuate. It was a little shocking because it was a pretty big fire but luckily, we called the firefighters. The wood part of the fence got all broken down.”
Aside from his job at M-A, he also works at FedEx and said that balancing two jobs can be very tiring. In the future, Ruiz says, “I would love to get a degree. I want to do something for the district and not just be a custodian. You never know, I might be an English Learners teacher. That’s a big goal for me.”
Fresh out of high school, at the age of 18, Griselda Esparza began working as a helper for people with disabilities. “It was first a summer job,” she said, “and then it turned to, like, ‘if you don’t help then who’s going to help them? If you don’t take the lead then who will?’”
“It grows into you and you get rewarded because you do see the progress, even if it’s minimal,” she said, “The more you do it, the more it changes someone’s life.” Esparza grew up on the east side of San Jose and had been working two jobs. She came to M-A from a neighbor’s recommendation. Upon arriving, she worked as a
part-time substitute teacher and paraprofessional for three years. Because of the pandemic, Esparza “didn’t want to work one-on-one with kids anymore” and became a custodian. October marks her first year working full-time at M-A.
As a custodian, Esparza helps clean out the classrooms and set up events and sports games. Even if she does not interact with students as much, she is still willing to aid them as much as possible. “If they need help, they’ll find me and I can help them.”
“I think everybody has a good spirit,” Esparza said, “If you come here, you feel supported. There’s always someone you can go to.”