PALMETTO -- After spending her summer scraping gum off desks, wiping down dirty classroom walls and scrubbing locker rooms until they shine, La'Kiera Edwards has a newfound appreciation for keeping Palmetto High School clean.
"I didn't know it was this dirty. You don't want to work in a dirty classroom," 17-year-old Edwards said.
Edwards will start her senior year at Palmetto High in August. Until then, she's one of about 100 Manatee County school students working with custodians in 23 schools to help tackle summer cleaning jobs.
"They're a real help," said Gene Raines, district custodial coordinator. "They
do everything the custodians do."
The district program, which has been around for a decade, allows students to earn minimum wage while assisting the custodial staff in the morning and requires the students to take academic classes in the afternoon to keep up with their studies. Students go through an application and interview process and are expected to follow instructions given by custodians. Completing the academic sessions is a necessary component of the program and helps students from slipping and losing knowledge in the summer, a phenomenon known as the "summer slide."
"We have to have that" academic component, said Barbara Harvey, a school board member heavily involved in the program. "They'll at least be at the same level they were when school ended, but hopefully above the level of the students who didn't have academic instruction in the summer."
The students work four days a week, from June 11 through Aug. 7. They work at the school sites from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then receive instruction from 2-4 p.m. One of the biggest perks is getting paid and being able to save money, said 14-year-old Jarrett Richardson, who will start as a freshman at Palmetto High in the fall. But the academic instruction part is important, too.
"It keeps our minds working," he said.
Students in the program said working with the custodians gives them more respect for what the custodians do, and many said they were surprised just how dirty the school can get.
"There was a whole bunch of dirt on the desks. Lots of layers," said 13-year-old Arthur Bellamy, who will start eighth grade at Lincoln Middle School in August. Bellamy said the work can be fun during the summer, but keeping the schools clean is an important, serious job.
For Edwards, the summer program shows her just how capable she is.
"I can work and keep up with my schoolwork," she said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.