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A New Generation ESP

Custodian Briana Rivera from Alabama is a New Face in ESP Land

By Dave Arnold

The NEA Education Support Professional (ESP) Conference always turns out to be a veritable gold mine of fascinating people. The 2009 conference last March in Orlando, Florida, was just what I expected, and more.

With more than 1,000 registrants (and many more family members in tow), it seems like every moment I was there I bumped into an engaging ESP state leader, provocative NEA board of director, or energetic former ESP of the Year.

As much as I enjoy seeing the various personalities who make NEA’s world turn and our public schools click, I also thrive on meeting a fresh face. You know, someone under age 30 who already operates like an old pro.

The Next Generation

At the Friday gala dinner, I met a quiet young lady sitting at my table who displayed the essential qualities of an experienced ESP – intelligence, compassion, work ethic, and a sincere dedication to students and the advancement of public schools. She is a custodian from Anniston, Alabama by the name of Briana Rivera.
Although she had only worked as a custodian for less than four years, she was one of the runner-ups for the C.L.E.A.N. Award (Custodial Leaders for Environmental Advocacy Nationwide).

On Saturday, the C.L.E.A.N. award went to the worthy and highly-respected Pat Nicholson of the Washington Education Association. Pat has been a deeply-committed and innovative custodian (he keeps up with all the latest cleaning products and technologies) for 24 years, almost as long as Ms. Rivera has been on this earth.

Perfecting Her Skills

At age 29, she is the head custodian of Saks Elementary School, where she started working in 2006 as a 10-month employee. Upon her second year of employment she was promoted to head custodian. By year three she was made a 12-month employee.

Briana says she had worked in restaurants and retail, but become a custodian to work closer to home and for the benefits. However, she says her job soon became her passion. She quickly made it a priority to get as much training, read as much material, and to be as good a custodian as possible.

To accomplish this, she also consults with other staff members and the county custodial supervisor about the most up-to-date methods and practices for cleaning and sanitizing the school. This new generation ESP knows how to do her homework.

The Real Deal

More than just a hard worker, Briana is an innovator. During her first year of employment, she explained to me that she and her principal developed an awards program to motivate students to work with custodians on maintaining a clean classroom and healthy learning environment.

Soon, an enthusiastic competition developed among students vying for the honor of having the cleanest classroom in school.
“All classrooms want to win,” Briana says. “The students want to hear their classroom name during the morning TV announcements.”

Working for Students

Since the program started, Briana noted that there has been a noticeable increase in the number of students washing their hands and picking up after themselves. Briana doesn’t hesitate to praise her students with compliments for a job well done.

“The kids will let you know that a compliment or a thumbs-up from Ms. Rivera tops any reward a teacher has to offer,” says one teacher.
The school nurse, Christie Norris, says Briana’s cheerful personality is contagious.

“As Briana shows up with her cart to clean up a mess, she always smiles and jokes with the student who had the accident,” Norris says. “The student can’t help but feel better because Briana has such a joy about her.”

ESP as Educator, Role Model

Briana is also the first to talk with the new teachers about the school’s sanitization policies and assist the school in their recycling program.

To go from being a new employee to being nominated for a national award as a custodian in less than four years is an awesome, inspiring display of dedication to the school and its students.

But Briana has set even higher goals for herself. She is working toward an associate’s degree in computer science in the hopes of working in the school system’s technology department.

If she proves to be as good in computer science as school maintenance, then I would say she will be going places. I only hope that one of those places is the next ESP conference in Las Vegas (2010), and then the one after that, and so on. Our schools need educators like Briana Rivera.

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(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is a custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.

Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.