Ensuring student safety everyday
In the 21st century, classified employees are becoming integral parts of school safety teams. In a guide to crisis planning released by the federal Department of Education this year, school districts are urged to conduct regular, comprehensive training with teachers and staff on handling emergency situations.
“Knowing how to respond quickly and efficiently in a crisis is critical to ensuring the safety of our schools and students,” U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said. “The midst of a crisis is not the time to start figuring out who ought to do what. At that moment, everyone involved—from top to bottom—should know the drill and know each other.”
Andre Edwards, a head custodian with Belmont Chapter 308, always lends a hand when asked to help. After 20 years with the district, he’s seen it all. That’s why the district has invited him to participate in crisis planning meetings.
“Safety is a big part of my job as a custodian. My input is very valuable,” Edwards said. “I’d like to think after being around here for 20 years, the district would listen to what I have to say. I like to let them know what I think.”
Ana Marie Navarro, a secretary in the Riverside County Office of Education Emergency Management Safe School Unit, said all staff is trained in safety measures, and classified staff are members of the office’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Navarro, a member of Riverside COE Chapter 693, said CSEA members work hand in hand with administration to ensure student and employee safety.
“We want our students to be comfortable. They don’t need to worry about looking over their shoulders to see if someone’s coming up behind them,” she said. “That’s our job. We’ll worry about that.”
CSEA members maintain safe environments
Students arrive safely at school, lights turn on when a switch is flipped, a nutritious lunch is served to hungry kids, computers transmit important information across a school district, and cool air comes out of vents during late spring days.
These essential services occur because of the diligence and dedication of classified school employees—and they are things people definitely would notice if they didn’t happen.
The safety of students and staff is the top priority of a school. School districts employ CSEA members to maintain safe environments, remove disruptive students and prevent dangerous situations.
That’s the magic of classified school employees. When they are on the job, they often go unnoticed. From behind the scenes, classified employees provide services vital to the everyday operation of schools. Without these services, school districts across California would grind to a halt.
It’s important for schools to provide an environment conducive to learning. Patti Regan, lead custodian at Romoland School District, said school custodians work hard to ensure facilities are clean and safe.
Regan, president of Romoland Elementary Chapter 499, said she starts her day before children arrive. She opens the campus for children, and cleans up after they finish breakfast. She also locks down the campus once kids have arrived to ensure student safety.
“I open the school at 6 a.m. to clean offices, hang flags, put out cones for the school buses, open bathrooms and do a quick check of the campus for vandalism,” said Regan, a 15-year veteran of the district.
After she sets the stage for the day ahead, Regan’s days are filled with a variety of responsibilities to ensure students are safe. A “Jill of all trades,” she not only changes the school marquee to let parents know what is happening at Harvest Valley Elementary School, she also performs as much simple maintenance she can to fill in gaps caused by short staffing.
Maintaining a clean and safe campus is important for student’s morale and health, Regan said.
“I am a firm believer that a clean environment is a healthy environment and that is what students need in their learning process,” Regan said. “They need to take pride in their community and school, and respect that. If the campus is dirty and the buildings and restrooms unattended, what messages are we sending to our young people about pride and respect?”
Regan also plays a mentorship role at the school. In her daily interaction with students, Regan can tell when kids are having a bad day or acting out. To create a safe and welcoming environment, she tells the students everyday how proud she is of them.
“I believe that all classified employees play a vital part in the student learning process,” she said. “We are their friends, teachers and most of all, we provide a safe haven for them when they are not in the care of their parents.”
On scene as first responders
Campus security monitors are the first responders for any type of emergency, including medical calls. Five years ago, there was a shooting at the college, and the monitors had to evacuate students from buildings until police arrived—all while wondering whether they would encounter the shooter themselves.
“We had the responsibility of making sure the students were safe despite the fact that we’re not armed,” Majtenyi said. “We have an all-encompassing job.”
Maes said he puts himself in danger every time he steps in to break up a gang fight or other altercation. He’s worked in the district for eight years and was once injured breaking up a fight.
“Sometimes, we don’t think about whether we could get hurt in a situation, because we’re used to people expecting us to do the impossible,” Maes said. “I’m campus security, but they expect me to be a custodian, a secretary, a counselor and a teacher!”
“I’m a rules enforcer, but I build a relationship with these kids, too.”
Williams, a member of Vallejo Chapter 199, has a method for helping students handle the disputes that arise among themselves. She said she sits them down and allows each of them to tell their side of the story.
“At the end of the story, they can’t even remember why they wanted to fight in the first place,” she said. “In the 10 years that I’ve been here, I’ve been able to put out the fires before they start.”
Although Williams has completed many hours of training, the most important tools she implements in working with students are instinct, experience and respect.
Kids look up to security personnel
“The kids look at us as friends, parents, counselors—as someone they can talk to and confide in,” she said. “They listen to us.”Williams added that campus supervisors serve that essential day-to-day role of disciplinarians that would otherwise be the responsibility of administrators.
“If schools didn’t have us, administrators wouldn’t be able to do anything. If campus supervisors didn’t intervene, every little thing that happens in schools with behavior would go to them.”
At Los Banos Community Day School, campus liaison Rosendo Ambriz is the first one to respond to discipline problems or to offer advice.
“Talking to them seems to be the best thing to do,” he said. “We try to approach the students on their level and not come off as the big authority. We try to be there for them one on one, we never put them on the spot in front of others, and we talk to them about consequences.”
Ambriz, a member of Merced County Office of Education Chapter 541, said that although one of his main goals is to keep conflicts from escalating, he also wants to make sure that the students don’t lose out on education.
“We’re the enforcers, but we’re also like counselors,” he said, adding that he always tries to build a rapport and to make sure that each student is calm before leaving his sight.
Students, in turn, appreciate the extra effort that Ambriz and other campus supervisors, officers and security staff put into their jobs.
“I’ve had students who graduated, became somebody and came back to say ‘thank you for the help that you gave me,’” Ambriz said. “It’s a good feeling when you can make a difference in at least one kid’s future.”