Believe it or not, Anthony Panzani would much rather scrub bathrooms and wax floors than deliver pizzas in the summer. And for Jimmy Whalen and Charles Atherton, scraping the gum off the bottom of a desk beats carrying a bag of golf clubs any day.
Atherton, Whalen and Panzani are a few of the handful of area teens and college students who came back to Forest Park this summer to participate in a work program that’s been ongoing for decades. Custodians in District 91 have only a few short months to prep the facilities before students and teachers return for the school year, and the task of wiping down every chair, desk and locker is a daunting one.
“We’d never be able to do it,” Robert Laudadio, superintendent of buildings and grounds for the district said.
So, from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., five days a week, Laudadio hires a few “kids from the neighborhood” to work alongside his full-time staff. It’s a lot of moving furniture, changing light bulbs and a dizzying amount of cleaning fill the day, but according to the help, the pay is good and job is actually pretty fun.
“Everybody’s pretty friendly, and entertaining,” Panzani, 20, said of the joking around that helps pass the time. “It’s not like we’re not working, but it’s a little more laid back.”
A few summers ago Panzani had a job delivering pizzas, but business fell off after a new owner bought the restaurant and changed the recipe. Nobody liked it, Panzani said, and he went from making $90 in tips on a good night to pulling in only about $30. Panzani said his hourly wage working for the school district is a guaranteed income that will come in handy when he enters his junior year of college in the fall.
In their first summer, Laudadio’s summer crew starts at $7.50 an hour. Each worker that returns for a subsequent season will earn $8 an hour.
Seventeen-year-old Atherton is going into his senior year of high school and started working summers at the schools a few years ago. He works alongside his classmate, Whalen, whose mother is a district employee. The two hated the last summer job they had together working as caddies at a nearby country club.
“We used to get up at 4 a.m.,” Atherton said. “Sometimes we didn’t get out there carrying until 2 o’clock in the afternoon.”
Part of the trick to finding a good summer job is making sure the paycheck is reliable, according to several members of the cleaning crew. Jobs that tip can be lucrative, but they can also backfire.
Orlando Herrera, another 20-year-old set to begin his junior year at college, said money is absolutely a priority for him.
“You got to be [focused on your income] these days,” Herrera said. “It’s change in your pocket; clothes and school.”
But to get their hands on that paycheck, Herrera and the others know they’ll have to work, and not all of it is pleasant. One of the more mundane tasks is wiping down each and every locker in a school building. The work’s not terribly difficult, just incredibly repetitive, Atherton said. In classrooms where younger students occupy the desks, a lot of time is spent peeling stickers and tape off of every surface imaginable.
“There’s tape everywhere,” Whalen said.
And at the middle school where Herrera spent much of his summer, scratching wads of gum off the bottom of a desk has taught him a valuable lesson.
“I used to do that, too, and after working here I’ll never do that again,” Herrera said.
Spending the summer in the classrooms where they grew up is something of a tradition for Jake Schiewe and his family. Schiewe, 20, is back for his second season working alongside the custodial staff and in years past his older siblings did the same thing.
One of his more memorable cleaning assignments this year, Schiewe said, was tackling his father’s fourth-grade classroom at Betsy Ross Elementary School. Schiewe’s father, Jon, retired from his teaching job at the end of the 2006-07 school year.
“It was just a little bit dirtier than all the rest, I thought,” Schiewe said.