Naperville Central custodian works hard to keep students and staff safe in pandemic

Nathan Yuan, Staff Writer

He’s usually found in the foreign language hallway, pushing his cart with a twinkle in his eyes and a wide grin on his face. Dressed in a navy blue polo shirt and hair pushed to the side, he might pass as a teacher. Usually, he’s sweeping and mopping, but when he sees students leaving for the day, he grins and waves hello.

Since 2013, Aaron Hernandez has been a custodian at Naperville Central High School. Along with other maintenance staff, custodians play an essential role in allowing the school to function, and Hernandez knows how important doing a good job is.

“We don’t just keep ourselves healthy, but we keep the school healthy too,” Hernandez said. “[Everyone] can continue to come to school normally without having to wonder whether [they will] get sick. There are three shifts and it spans almost all 24 hours. It’s a lot of cleaning. I get here at 2:30 and start at 3:00. Until I [leave] at 11:30, I’m constantly cleaning.”

In the midst of the pandemic, custodians have a new, noble duty: protecting staff and students from COVID-19.

“One change [is] that custodians are now assigned to more specific [areas],” Assistant Principal of Operations Carrie McFadden said. “[This is] to clean the bathrooms more. During the day, there might be two people assigned to the third floor and one of them might go through, multiple times a day, just cleaning the door handles.”

As essential workers, NCHS custodians are provided with protective equipment including masks and gloves. 

“[The school is] doing a great job of helping to keep us safe and working,” Hernandez said. “We have sanitation spray bottles, plastic gloves, safety glasses and masks. I feel safe.” 

So despite the pandemic, Hernandez remains cheerful.

“I’m happy to see that the school is clean,” he said. “What keeps me going are the kids. I see many [students] come in, and [I] always say ‘hi’ to them and see how they’re doing.”

In early March, teachers chipped in to give each of the 35 NCHS custodians a $35 gift card and a handwritten note. Christina Tardy, the assistant to the Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction, chose to write Hernandez’s.

To Tardy, it’s no secret that custodians are an integral part of NCHS’s daily operations; the recent pandemic has only made that more clear.

“With everything going on this year, there’ve been so many changes to all of our cleaning protocols, and the custodians and the whole maintenance staff have been so awesome,” Tardy said. “The staff wanted to do something nice for them. It wasn’t mandatory, we collected donations and we had enough money to give all 35 of our custodians $35.”

Hernandez’s impact goes beyond cleaning. He strives to make a connection with everyone.

“I try my hardest to strike up any conversation I can get from anybody,” he said. “See how their day is going, talk about my day. Just like any normal human being does. If they feel like talking to me, it’s totally up to them.”

His steadfast smile and positive attitude were some of the reasons Tardy chose to write his card.

“I would say I know [him] pretty well. Every time I see him, he stops and says hello, whether it’s walking by my office or just in the hallway,” Tardy said. “He really does care about the school and the people here.”

Despite the pandemic, Hernandez has a remarkably positive outlook.

“I do have my bad days,” Hernandez said. “But I look at it as just another challenge where I need to pick up on certain things that I may have forgotten. Just because today was bad doesn’t mean tomorrow will.”

So, Aaron, if you had to sum yourself up in one word, what would it be?