How one Birmingham custodian preps for the first day of school
It’s common knowledge at Bush Hills STEAM Academy in Birmingham that if you need anything, ask Jacqulene Heggler. She’s usually seen walking the halls with a Pepsi in her hand, a quick word of wisdom and a t-shirt that reads “Ms. Jackie” on the back in big bold letters.
Birmingham City Schools welcomed students back Monday. But when the kids are out playing in the sun and teachers get a much-needed break in the summer, Heggler said custodians and maintenance staff are renovating and refreshing schools for the first day of school. It’s a day Heggler looks forward to.
“The big test is gonna be Monday when the little darlings come in,” she said. “That’s gonna be [full of] excitement.”
During the summer, Heggler and the custodial team move all the furniture from over 30 classrooms, then strip the floors. Then they wax them, let them dry, and clean and move all the furniture back in. They repeat the process for the halls, scrape gum off the gym floor, vacuum the carpets and deep clean the bathrooms.
“It’s hard work,” Heggler said. “But I love it.”
When students walked in on the first day, they were greeted by freshly-waxed shiny floors, colorful bulletin boards designed by Heggler and the smell of citrus Pine Sol, courtesy of the custodial team. It’s a point of pride for Heggler.
“I really just like to see the expression on people’s faces when they come in and they say, ‘Ooh! You all have a nice school! Ooh! Your school is so clean and it smells fresh.’ Now I love to hear people when they say that,” she said.
But she said she sees her role in the school as more than someone who cleans. She also looks after the students because she loves them.
She said sometimes she may have to reprimand the middle schoolers at Bush Hills for playing in the soap or running in the halls, but at the end of the day they’re her kids.
“I consider myself [in] like a mama role or a grandmama role to the children really,” Heggler said.“ They’re really some sweet children. And once you get to know them you’ll love them.”
At 66 years old, Heggler has worked as a custodian for half of her life. She said she’s thinking about retirement, but for now, she’ll continue working to keep students healthy and happy.
Kyra Miles is a Report for America corps member reporting on education for WBHM.