How students can help provide a clean learning environment

The Patterson Mill cafeteria before lunch periods start.

The Patterson Mill cafeteria before lunch periods start.


Patterson Mill is a rather clean school, according to the Principal Dr. Abel. However, while the custodians do most of the work, students can also play a crucial role to make their job easier.

 Dr. Abel started out by saying, “I think overall [the school cleanliness] is very high. I think it’s very clean for a school.” He also described the custodial crew as “the best group of custodians I’ve ever worked with.” He reports that students do a good job of keeping the school clean and that they want to respect the school for what it is. “I think just reminding staff who have problems with students and getting rid of their trash at lunch, ‘You wouldn’t be able to do this at your house, so don’t do it here.’” He also reports that middle school is just as likely to make a mess as the high school is, although he thinks high schoolers stay on top of things better than the middle schoolers.

Usually, locker breaks are the reason for middle schoolers making the environment filthy. There are binders frequently scattered on the floor, making it very cluttered. He states that while he has seen the staff litter, he knows that they don’t do it on purpose and that they clean it up on their own. The most common example of this is when the secretaries go to shred paper. Sometimes, they make a bit of a mess while doing so, but they come in with a vacuum soon after and clean it up. In the end, Dr. Abel thinks that students just need to remember to pick up after themselves and make sure to not leave garbage lying around anywhere in order to make the students and teachers, as well as the custodial crew, happy.

Dr. Abel had very positive feedback about the custodial crew. Ms. Peggy, a prominent member of the custodian crew, gave some insight on her job and how students can make it easier. She says that while she is the one cleaning it, she thinks that the rest of the school does a pretty good job of keeping the school clean, as well as that the students are the main threat to cleanliness. “It’s not only the custodians cleaning it. We have to work together as a team. Staff and students, along with us.” She reports that the cafeteria is where students get lazy with picking up their trash and wishes that students would be as involved in keeping it clean as she is. However, she also stated that “it might not be just from our school, it could be from the community.” Students that visit here from other schools or parents who come from home for an important event could be a part of the issue. The worst part of her job is when someone doesn’t even care. She takes it as a sign of disrespect that she has to clean up after students who don’t throw their trash away. She wants the students to take pride in the school. The bathrooms are another really dirty place that the custodial staff has to clean. The custodial crew has had several problems with the middle school, such as when the bathroom is deliberately trashed. Fortunately, the middle school has improved in terms of keeping the bathrooms clean. In order to help the school to stay clean, as well as make her job easier, Ms. Peggy wants the same thing as Dr. Abel: for students to be responsible for messes and pick up after themselves.

 Raul Puga is a sophomore student at Patterson Mill who transferred here from another Harford County school. Before he went to that school, however, he lived in the Philippines, Japan, and China. He stated that the overall cleanliness of Patterson Mill is better than the schools he has seen in other countries. He also addressed that while the school’s clean environment is great, it could be better. Puga says that the school is untidy because of students not caring. “Most of the students either just don’t care and they just want to go home and do whatever they want, or they do care and they’re just not paying attention to their surroundings, so they end up littering.” In order for students to make the environment better, Puga says that “better emphasis on telling the students” about maintaining cleanliness is needed. He thinks that if the staff, as well as custodial crew, can get through to students to keep the school clean, they will feel happy that they made a change in their environment. “It’s just going to feel a bit better little by little,” assured Puga. Puga says that Patterson Mill, compared to the previous Harford County school he went to, is better in almost all aspects when it comes to cleanliness, but that the café area is more or less the same. In contrast, he says that the normal classrooms and the library are much cleaner than the Harford County school he used to attend. Students here don’t think about the other important locations of the school, meaning that classrooms end up being not so clean, and the library, which is the biggest part of the school, could also end up being trashed as well. Puga’s thinking suggests that if cleanliness is more encouraged to students, then it will make the school and students better at maintaining a clean environment. 

The interior of the rather large media center at Patterson Mill.

One step at a time, everyone can help the school be cleaner. The broken window theory, a criminology theory established in 1982, states that if a prison is kept clean, then prisoners will care more about their environment. This can apply to schools as well. If students keep their environment clean, others will be influenced to do the same. Teachers can also help out. Students should remember to tidy up their area wherever they are in their school to respect their environment, whether dirty means papers scattered on the floor, food in the cafeteria, or literal dirt. If food is seen on the floor, whether the student left it there or not, they should pick it up. Litterers should be reminded by their peers to throw their trash away. During lunch, students shouldn’t have food fights with friends, or throw food in general, as that will make the custodians’ jobs harder.  Students should pick up after themselves. School isn’t a house where you can throw trash wherever you want and have someone else pick it up; everyone has to take responsibility for the school environment. Students should ask for help when needed and, together with the custodians, the whole school can make a difference in the community’s cleanliness.