The saying goes that if the school principal isn’t on campus, you can still expect business as usual, but if the principal’s secretary is out, be prepared for chaos! (No offense to all of the great principals out there.)

I was reminded of this last week when I attended the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance Pinning Ceremony for eight PSJA ISD graduates who completed the South Texas College Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) program while earning their high school diplomas. As you will read in the special graduation section of next week's Valley Town Crier, these PSJA ISD seniors are the first in the nation to earn an ADN while in high school.

I found the entire ceremony inspirational, but something happened during the event I didn’t expect, something that moved me deeply and reminded me of the people in our schools who have a significant impact on our students but who are rarely in the limelight.

Lone Star National Bank provided big, beautiful gift baskets for the nursing graduates to congratulate them on this momentous occasion. But if you counted the baskets on the stage, you quickly realized there were nine instead of eight. During the ceremony, we found out why.

One basket was for Noel Gonzalez, the PSJA ISD school bus driver responsible for getting these students everywhere they needed to go, from classes at STC to clinical rotations at DHR to tutoring sessions and to their respective high school campuses. We heard a lot about how the students sacrificed over the past two-and-a-half years, missing family and school activities and having little time to relax and have fun with their high school friends. They didn’t make those sacrifices alone. Mr. Gonzalez made them too, and the students gratefully acknowledged it.

During the “Student Testimonial” part of the pinning ceremony, Guadalupe Salinas, a nursing grad from PSJA Memorial Early College High School, addressed Mr. Gonzalez, thanking him for everything he had done for her and her fellow nurses. She also acknowledged one of Mr. Gonzalez’s greatest sacrifices by saying directly to him, “Sorry you missed your wife’s birthday.”

As I sat there, I thought about all of the bus drivers who sacrifice so much for the students in our schools every day. Not only do they rise before dawn, day after day, but they take on the responsibility of protecting a family’s and a community’s most precious gift—our children.

The next day, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I saw a post by my friend, Sal Flores, an assistant principal at McAllen High School. Sal’s post read, “Thank you, Cafeteria Staff, for a great year!!!” With the tweet, Sal posted a picture of himself, Albert Canales, the McHi principal, and Angela Allen, another assistant principal, surrounded by the McHi cafeteria staff. I asked Sal’s permission to include that picture with this column because it is a perfect reminder of how they, too, rise each morning before dawn to go to our schools, greet our children, and provide them with sustenance for the day.

Sal granted me permission and responded, “These are the hard workers who are not seen but who make a huge difference…I consider them the start and ending of a McHi day. They open and feed our kids and they close by cleaning up the school.” For all they do, the McHi administration celebrated them that day.

And I could never forget the custodians in our schools. They, too, open our schools and turn the lights on before many who will walk in the halls that day have even awakened. Throughout each day, they open the school doors (and the classroom doors for those who somehow forgot their keys), sweep the floors, dust, mop, and scrub without uttering a complaint. Many times, I have seen them waxing school floors in the summer, without air conditioning. I always wonder how they do it.

When I taught at Brown in the 80s, our hardworking, sweet-as-could-be custodian was Lencha (Hortencia Ramirez). When I taught at Memorial in the 90s, I was blessed to work with Janie, Enrique, and Maria. And when I moved to McHi, Jose and Janie, along with supervisor Mr. Martinez, kept the aging campus spotless.

When I think of labors of love, I think of our bus drivers, our cafeteria workers, and our custodians. For years, I have advocated for a day set aside for each group: School Bus Drivers’ Day, School Cafeteria Workers’ Day, and School Custodians’ Day. I haven’t stopped hoping those days will come.

In the meantime, THANK YOU for all you do each day for our children, for our parents, for our district employees, and for our community. Our schools absolutely could not function without you. 

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at cardis1022@aol.com.