Custodians keep campus clean, safe for students

Ortiz and Littleton joke around while taking care of garbage cans around campus
Ortiz and Littleton joke around while taking care of garbage cans around campus
Bren Belmonte
Torres stands outside the F Building while supervising elevator repairs
Carlos Torres – Head Custodian

   As Head Custodian of seven crew members, Torres’ day is always packed. He is often the first on campus, starting before six in the morning.

   “When it gets hard is when there’s more than one event going on on campus,” he said. “This campus, it usually never sleeps. We’ll have people here until 9:30, 10:30 at night.”

   Before becoming Head Custodian at the start of this year, Torres served in the athletic department for eight years and was a substitute custodian. From school events to maintenance, his new role is to ensure the custodial staff meets the school’s needs.

   “Every day is different, never the same thing,” Torres described. “It’s never quiet. You always have to be on the go. If I sit down, it’s probably just for lunch, and that’s the only time I sit down.”

   Though he is now in charge of training the three new custodians on staff, interacting with the other crew members as equals is what motivates him to come to work everyday.

   “I like how there’s a sense of family right here between our group,” he shared. “We all get along and then everybody likes to mess around and joke around. That makes the day go by a lot better.”

Torres stands outside the F Building while supervising elevator repairs (Bren Belmonte)
Ramirez replaces the trash bags in the lower B Building
Gilbert Ramirez – early shift, 9 am to 5:30 pm


   After 16 years at Gabrielino High School, Ramirez has found his happy place among a community of coworkers, staff, and students. As a “professional trash dumper”, he enjoys seeing the Speech and Debate team perform and working with the Associated Student body (ASB).

   “I love having fun here, getting to know everybody, that’s one of the biggest rewards,” Ramirez said with a smile. “Knowing that you’re doing a good job.”

   Everyday, Ramirez approaches his work with an open mind towards messes and a dedication to keeping the campus clean and safe. His biggest challenges are confronting the dinginess of the bathrooms and “hell week” during summer, where the custodians prepare the campus for the school year.

   “I see it as if there’s a guy out there doing this for my kids,” he said, laughing. “I want to do the same thing, making it clean and nice for you guys. That’s the way I approach it, like you guys are all my kids.”

Ramirez replaces the trash bags in the lower B Building (Bren Belmonte)
Ortiz on his way to put full trash bags in the custodial cart
Joe Ortiz – late shift, 2:30 to 11 pm

   Ortiz has dedicated the past 12 years to being a custodian at Gabrielino, after working at Roosevelt Elementary School for three years. While he may appear gruff on the surface, he cares deeply about those he works with and keeping the campus clean.

   “I get nothing but good vibes when it comes to other teachers that come here,” Ortiz said. “Teachers and parents come in and they always say, ‘God, your campus is clean, our school is clean.’ […] It makes me feel good because we are doing our job for these kids and for the teachers.”

   As a custodian, Ortiz must balance his regular maintenance of the campus with time-consuming extra requests. Juggling these responsibilities can be strenuous and underappreciated, but Ortiz takes pride in doing his duty properly.

   “Just thinking about the teachers and the kids, […] when people say thank you, you’re doing a good job, that right there just makes me feel good,” he said. “I’m not here to impress, I’m just here to do my job.”

Ortiz on his way to put full trash bags in the custodial cart (Bren Belmonte)
Littleton wheels in the traffic cones after school is released
Fred Littleton – early shift

   Littleton started working in the district in 2010, relocating from Phoenix, Arizona. Though he is a man of few words, he brings a laid back attitude and a good sense of humor to his work.

   “It’s an easy job, a fun job,” he said. “We have some good kids here. Good staff, teachers and everybody. It’s a good place to go to work.”

   Being injured this year means he is currently on light duty, but he is looking forward to returning to his regular routine. Like many of the other custodians, one of the hardest parts of his job is maintaining the restrooms.

   “The restrooms, that’s the number one thing that they tear up and just destroy,” Littleton said, shaking his head. “I don’t know why anyone would get a kick out of going in a restroom and tearing up a restroom.”

   Despite the challenges, Littleton enjoys his work and his interactions with coworkers and students.

   “We’re not janitors, we’re custodians, and we’re here to serve a purpose,” he said with pride. “We’re all here to serve a purpose. Y’all are here to learn, and we’re here to help y’all throughout the day and keep the campus clean.”

Littleton wheels in the traffic cones after school is released (Bren Belmonte)
Macias transport a full bag of trash
Taurina Macias – late shift, 12:30 to 8 pm

   For over four years, Macias has brought an infectious exuberance to her work every day. Interacting with and learning about the students and adults gives her the joy to keep getting better at what she does.

   “The thing that I love most is that now, the kids know me and every time they see me, it’s a smile from them to me,” Macias said in Spanish with a warm smile of her own. “I feel really happy with the kids because they already know that I’m a custodian, that I work, and that I help them. With a smile, they say a lot to me.”

   Because Macias speaks little English, her greatest challenge is the language barrier.

   “[Students don’t know] that I don’t know any English,” she said with a laugh. “It is more difficult for me because […] I would like to be able to express myself much better with the adults and kids.”

   Macias’ route encompasses the counselors’ offices, music building, choir room, and lunch area. Prior to coming to Gabrielino, Macias worked at Roosevelt Elementary. Now that she is in a full time position, she sees herself at Gabrielino until she “can’t work anymore”.

   “My biggest goal that I have here […] is to continue working every day better and better,” Macias said. “To be able to cooperate and help with the children in everything that I can that is within my reach.”

Macias transport a full bag of trash (Bren Belmonte)
Hernandez mops the small gym floor
Juan Hernandez – late shift, 12 to 8:30 pm

   Since last year, Hernandez has had one of the most unique custodial jobs, working four hours outside on the baseball, softball, and football fields and four hours in the small gym, locker rooms, and Beak. Unlike the other custodians, his route and duties vary everyday, which is one of the most enjoyable aspects of his job.

   “It’s nice to make the school look more beautiful,” Hernandez said in Spanish. “The school is clean on the outside, it is clean inside, it looks more beautiful.”

   Before coming to Gabrielino, Hernandez worked as a substitute custodian for two years, cleaning campuses all around the district. In his early career, he was a mechanic for 27 years. Now, he enjoys the support he receives from the custodial team despite wishing the students maintained the bathrooms better.

   “The most rewarding part of my job right now is probably working in what I do, where I am,” Hernandez said with a smile. “After, I don’t want any other position. Everything is good.”

Hernandez mops the small gym floor (Bren Belmonte)
Figueroa consolidates trash bins near the E Building
Marcus Figueroa – late shift, 2:30 to 11 pm

   For Figueroa, working at Gabrielino is a family tradition. His mother, Lisa Leon, used to work in the front office, and he graduated from Gabrielino in 2010. Since October 2023, he has been working as a custodian in the upper B Building with hopes to spend the rest of his career here.

   “I like my coworkers,” Figueroa said. “The rest of the custodial staff has been really great, a lot of teaching staff has been really accepting of me coming in, the administration staff has been really friendly and helpful, accommodating. The family life here at Gabrielino is very nice.”

   While Figueroa echoes the other custodians’ sentiment about the “depressing” nature of the school bathrooms, he is driven by seeing students enjoy the campus afterschool. Every day, he aims to clean his rooms as efficiently and effectively as he can so he has time to respond to calls.

   “I’m trying to get quicker at cleaning the rooms,” he explained. “Vacuuming and sweeping and mopping, just getting quicker at that, getting better at that. Making sure that everything’s nice and shiny.”

Figueroa consolidates trash bins near the E Building (Bren Belmonte)
Maldonado cleans the boys restroom in the lower E building
Victor Maldonado – late shift, 2:30 to 11 pm

   Though Maldonado has only been working at Gabrielino since the end of February, he already sees a future for himself at the school for decades to come. As the custodian in charge of the E building, Maldonado is adjusting to the volume of classes and requests.

   “It’s very repetitive, the same thing every day,” he said. “But with that, you get better at what you do every day. So I’m finding out and learning new stuff every single day as I go, that’s rewarding to me.”

   Maldonado’s goal this year is to be at the level where he can be relied on by teachers, students, and his fellow custodians. As the newest recruit, many of the more senior custodians have given him guidance, advice, and pointers on how to execute his route effectively.

   “Gabrielino is a great school to work for and I’m glad I got out here,” he said with a smile. “Our custodial team is amazing. Carlos is a great manager and other guys are very, very helpful.”

Maldonado cleans the boys restroom in the lower E building (Bren Belmonte)
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