Empowering Students Through Custodial Work

A transformative program for Indianapolis high schoolers builds skills and community

Empowering Students Through Custodial Work

At Metropolitan School District (MSD) of Decatur Township in Indianapolis, an innovative program is not just transforming the cleanliness of its school facilities but also the lives of its students.
The student custodial program stands as a beacon of practical education and community pride, evolving from a necessity into a comprehensive educational opportunity that offers students
a job, along with a chance to develop skills, responsibility, and a sense of belonging.

Now in its fifth year, the program has grown from 12 to 32 student custodians, with 186 on the waiting list to join—a testament to its success and appeal. At the center of the program is Deb Faust, the custodial supervisor whose dedication has been pivotal in steering the program to new heights. Reflecting on the early days of the program, Faust shared the story of its inception during a
challenging period. “What inspired it was that right prior to COVID-19, we were extremely short staffed, and I had been talking with my supervisor regarding what I had done at another
school district with a program where I was kind of like a job coach for the kids,” Faust said. “I was teaching them a job skill and he [said], ‘You know, this sounds like a really good idea. Why don’t you get it all together? Get me the information. Let’s present it to the board and to the CFO and see if this is something we can do.’ And so, I gathered up all my information, and we presented it, and they thought, yeah, this is going to be a really good program.”

An inclusive and accessible opportunity

The program, carefully designed to accommodate student needs including transportation, reflects Faust’s commitment to accessibility and inclusivity. “Some of the challenges were [that] we had students who were not going to have transportation, so that’s why we are trying to partner with our [school] buses to provide some transportation for the kids to the different buildings. And then their parents would pick them up. But we worked around it, and so now we have students in all of our nine buildings,” Faust explained, highlighting the program’s expansive reach.

Academic success comes first

Students like Hayden and Cecil have found the program to be a steppingstone to adult life and future careers. Hayden saw it as an opportunity, “Yeah, to really make money and save for our
futures.” Cecil appreciated the program for providing valuable work experience and a chance to explore career options beyond traditional paths, adding, “It was a good, good way to start
off my experience in the workforce and to explore things beyond this job.”

Students are selected based on their academic performance and teacher recommendations and reminded that education is paramount. “They [need] references from [three of] their
teachers, and they [must] have good grades,” Faust explained. “And we make sure that the teachers report to the head custodians if a student is failing a class or has assignments that are outstanding. They’ll get with our head custodian and say, ‘Hey, this student is missing two assignments,’ and Image courtesy of Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township 51 we’ll say, ‘OK, you can’t clock in until you get these assignments done.’”

Faust added, “I have some kids who are in band, drama, choir, or sports, and we work around all their schedules. And like I said, homework comes first, and we make sure that is taken care of.”

Building skills for the future

Faust proudly notes that the program’s impact extends beyond practical skills. Students come away from the program with the expertise they need to be qualified to work in environmental
services. “We actually are training [the students] to strip and wax floors. I have one student who [after graduation] transitioned over to be a fulltime employee. She knows how to strip and wax
floors. She can run the floor machines.”

The program even offers support in resume building, Faust said, adding many colleges offer students custodial jobs to help offset their housing costs. “We’ll help them write a resume if they’re
going to go to a college or university that offers that [opportunity],” she said.

A day in the life of a student custodian

A typical workday for student custodians like Hayden and Cecil is filled with a variety of tasks that contribute significantly to their school’s environment. “So, a typical day would be once they clock in, they get their card, and some of them will have daily assigned routes. They’ll go in, they’ll pull trash, clean and disinfect all the student desks, the teacher desk, all high-touch point areas. Then they vacuum the classrooms. They vacuum their hallways,” Faust said. “They also clean their restrooms, and we have all-purpose machines for that—they love to use the machine. They’re making sure the restroom is stocked. It’s just the typical custodial duties. That’s what they’re doing on a daily basis.”

In addition to cleaning techniques, the students are also well-trained in safety protocols. Before beginning the program, the students undergo training to learn how to protect themselves and
building inhabitants from pathogens that cause infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

Success stories and future aspirations

The program’s most rewarding aspect for Faust is witnessing the students’ growth and seeing their pride in their work. She shared a student success story: “Her name is Daisy, and her mom is a head custodian for me. And [Daisy] graduated early, became a full-time employee for me, and moved up to a head custodian position—and she was only 18. She’d been in the program for four years and she was awesome.”

Looking to the future, Faust is hopeful about the program’s continuity and potential as a replicable model. “I have had a couple [of school districts] who have inquired about it. I’m more than happy to help any school district,” she said.

Faust encourages other schools to consider such a program, “I would say go for it because this has helped [our district] tremendously. We couldn’tget our buildings done on a nightly basis without
our students.”

“People love to see them come into their offices and clean,” she added. “[The students] are building such a great rapport with all the administrators [and] the board members. It’s just
really great to see all those kids jump in there, and they’re just doing so well.”

Through the dedicated efforts of Faust and her team, as well as the enthusiastic participation of students like Hayden and Cecil, the student custodial program at MSD of Decatur Township
not only keeps schools clean but also builds a community of young individuals who are, as Faust said, “Decatur Proud.”

Learn more from Deb Faust and student custodians Hayden and Cecil by viewing a Straight Talk! video at

Timothy Johnson

Editor and Writer

Timothy Johnson is an editor, writer, proofreader, content manager, and SEO specialist. He has served as an editor and executive editor for national professional associations, and he has more than 35 years of editorial and publishing experience. He can be reached at [email protected].

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