Back to School

Mr. Mickens was the custodian at my elementary school.  Quiet, strong, capable; he was the one who showed up when we called for help.  If someone was sick or hurt or had otherwise suffered any other sort of embarrassing incident, he made it disappear. Then he himself would fade again into the background.  No big deal.  I don’t remember ever hearing him speak.  But his presence was comforting.

I’ve been thinking about Mr. Mickens this week, as I’ve been subbing for one of the custodians here at the school in Seldovia.  Being on the afternoon shift, my time in the school has only overlapped with the students’ for a couple of hours each day, so I haven’t interacted with them much.  But being at the school has given me a glimpse into a different aspect of the community here that I normally wouldn’t have had a chance to see.  I’ve felt a bit like an anthropologist.

Two of the nights this week there were people staying overnight in the school, sleeping on the floor.  Early in the week it was the maintenance guys from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.  Because Seldovia is off the road system, it makes sense to maximize the travel expense and stay over a couple of days to get more work done.  They flew out on Thursday, and that same afternoon I picked up three girls and their chaperone from the airport.  They had come to town for basketball practice, stayed overnight in one of the classrooms, and headed up to Anchorage on Friday with the rest of the girls’ basketball team to compete against another small school. Even though Seldovia is in the division for the smallest schools in the state (1A), we still have to join forces with the next village over to make a complete team.

I don’t have an exact number, but there are fewer than 40 kids enrolled right now, grades K through 12.  There’s virtually no graffiti in the school.  The teachers, and the custodians, would recognize the handwriting.


The Garbage Shed

The Garbage Shed, out behind the school, is a bear-proof shipping container, or conex, as some folks call them.  I’d never encountered a shipping container close up before living in Alaska, even though I did see plenty of them on container ships in Puget Sound.  They are ubiquitous reminders of our Pacific cargo culture, and are used as utility buildings, storage sheds, portable classrooms, and probably as residences in some cases, although I don’t personally know anyone who lives in one.  It took me a while to figure out the locking door mechanism.  It’s simple once you know how it works, but until then it’s part of the learning curve for the newbie custodian.  (I hope this means I am smarter than the average bear.)



DO NOT ENTER the Red Zone.

This school was built in the seventies, I think, with a capacity for 96 kids – that’s how many lockers there are, anyway.  So there’s lots of room for the kids to move around without bumping into each other. Nonetheless, there is one kid who has boundary issues. Different colors of tape tell him where it’s ok to go or not go. Brilliant idea. There are probably quite a few adults in the world who could use visual cues like this.

In spite of those few Alaskan details, a school is a school.  There is weird and wonderful stuff that goes on.  You get to see evidence of it when you wander around after hours, wiping down every surface.


We are definitely over the hump!


Seventies school retrofitted with 21st century brain.


Kinda weird.  Found this in the Home Ec room = weirder.


Science is the reward!  Finally!


I’m excited about the Rock Cycle, too.  (Student/artist unknown.)

Being a custodian is hard work, physically.  I feel wrecked after just four days.  Most of the classroom side of the school is carpeted, and I’ll make a rough guesstimate that it’s at least 7000 square feet.  Seems like acres of carpet, but it turns out it’s only about a tenth of an acre.  But still, bigger than some of the lawns I’ve had to mow. Last night, as I was vacuuming the 45′ x 60′ carpeted Commons area, I had a vision of a riding mower-style vacuum.  Maybe something like a Zamboni machine…  with a cup holder, of course.

My hat is off to anyone who does this as a full time job.  Mr. Mickens, if you’re still out there, I hope you know that even in your quiet way, you made a difference in a lot of kids’ lives.


There is almost always work available, if you’re willing to do it. (Some positions include lessons in humility.)

This entry was posted in Alaska, Seldovia, Work. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Back to School

  1. Uncle Barry says:

    I always enjoy reading your posts. You have a wonderful gift with the English language. When I read your words I get a picture of what you are describing. You need to write a book someday. I’m sure it would be a great read. Love you, B.C.


  2. david paterson says:

    Cindy, Ive been a full time custodian for almost two years now, it is a lot of work, with about 6 custodians and at llest a thousand students (I think) it’s a bit different than your experience, but you do get at the crux of the experience, it was lovely to read. dave


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