Lancer spotlight: Custodian Bowles leads team of pandemic superheroes

Does anyone every wonder how and why everyone is able to go back to the school building during a world pandemic? Custodial staff make it happen.

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Natalie Ann Rebetsky

Mr. Mike Bowles speaking to Mrs. Rebetsky’s journalism class.

The short URL of the present article is: https://lhslance.org/cgmy8

Mr. Mike Bowles, lead custodian, and his team have been hard at work every day keeping the school as clean as possible for the return of students and teachers. Their main goal this year, and for future years, make sure that the coronavirus does not get spread, causing illness and absence for teachers and students.

When the school first shut down, Bowles described himself as” heartbroken.” Heartbroken is not too strong a word.He went from seeing smiling faces of students and teachers to seeing no one, but he was also trying to move ahead and get students and teachers back to school. 

Honestly, not having you guys here was heartbreaking.”

— Mike Bowles

In a Lancer Media interview, Mike Bowles described the journey that he and his 12-person team have taken to re-open the building. He arrived at the interview, masked of course, with a rolling desk and a computer–these are symbols of how his job has changed.  Now, he must stay connected to his email and to documents with training protocols.

 “In the first month of everyone leaving. I was so far out of my element. I knew what had to be done and what we had to do. But, honestly, not having you guys here was heartbreaking. Everything I do is for the safety of the students and staff, and without you guys here, it was sad. Coming into school with empty halls and empty lots. I was trying to look ahead at what we had to do,=. I knew there was gonna be some craziness and a lot of changes,” said Bowles. 

While students and teachers were at home, Bowles and his team were not idle.  It was actually a very hectic time.

“In the first 8 months I was in training classes, online classes, online learning procedures, getting [new] treatments, discussing things with other schools and teams,” said Bowles.

By the end of Summer 2021, Bowles plans to have every room in the building repainted, too, a process the team began during the shut-down.

Now that students and teachers are back in the school, Bowles is thrilled. His preparation for the return included practicing cleaning techniques in the cafeteria, timing them a little like a pit change in a car race.

Like the Indy 500, the custodial team is like the pit crew.  When the lunch shifts change, they must do every cleaning procedure quickly and accurately, in just five minutes.

“We spent two weeks before school started to test and trial different processes. It’s very fast-paced. The staff is amazing. Within five minutes they can clean and sanitize 150 desks and chairs [in the cafeteria]. I don’t know how many people can do that. We timed everyone and saw what was most effective and what wasn’t. It was easier to have us here in the building, feels good to be back on a daily routine,” said Bowles. 

Before, during, and after school, Bowless and his team are busy. Wednesday, when no one is in the building, it’s ironic that the demand on custodial time is actually greater.

 “Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday each individual is responsible for their own area. Wednesday is when we do a team cleaning, which is our busiest day. Believe it or not, we clean every surface, make sure everything gets wiped down and sanitized, and sanitize the whole building,” said Bowles.

One thing that is a big concern for Mr. Bowles that is always on his mind is the spreading of Covid-19 while he and his team are cleaning. 

Much like the characters in Ghotbusters, the custodians roam the building with backpacks of disinfectant.

My team is on a set schedule. I’m here from 4:30-5 a.m. and I’m supposed to leave around 1 but usually don’t leave until 3-4 p.m.” 

“We have changed procedures, changed materials regularly.Each room has separate rags and sanitizer, we use a two step process, clean surface before clean surface, We have a company that comes and washes our rags for us — Cintas. We also have 13 people cleaning–12 full-time and 1 part time. Our part-time member helps during lunch,” said Bowles. 

Bowles said that he is lucky he has hoarded supplies in the past.

Right as school was allowing students and teachers to come back, Bowles noticed several schools had been running out of supplies and didn’t have enough, so Bowles started donating supplies to schools that need them, but he kept LHS fully stocked.

 “We had plenty of supplies but ended up giving supplies to schools with shortages. We are always stocked up on supplies. It’s been concerning, but I knew what I had and that FCPS had a good amount of supplies. They have a warehouse to distribute. We are constantly working with other schools,” said Bowles.

Students get an “A” for doing their part.

During the month school has been open,  Bowles has been very impressed with how well the students have taken care of the school.

 “First week during the cohort, I was truly amazed by the way everyone was following procedures. Vandalism has dropped dramatically. I haven’t had a single case since hybrid came back, and everyone is more accountable for where they are,” said Bowles. 

One part of that is the new bathroom procedures–locking bathrooms between classes and having students check out during class through a Google Form that is tracked by attendance.

Bowles has also been keeping the stadium and sport areas clean.  Mr. Bowles’ opinion is that one of the germiest areas to clean is the weight room. As sports opens up to more spectators, he has been working with Athletic Director Sony Joseph, labeling and marking, and cleaning bleachers.

“Sports make it harder but it needs to be done. It’s a lot of work having to coordinate with Mr. Joseph, but we get it done,” said Bowles. 

 

Since the start of the pandemic Mr. Bowels and his team have had to use some new equipment when cleaning the school. Many have noticed that the custodians are always carrying around a spray bottle.  The backpacks are an addition, too.

 “That’s our disinfectant, made by a company called 3m, and we wear the backpacks after lunch during sanitation,” said Bowles.

He says students, staff and custodians are in this together. “Communication is essential. If you see something and don’t feel safe, let me know.”