Originally published in The Weekly Packet, July 17, 2014
“These are the kind of people we want to celebrate”
Head custodian Colberth is honored by professionals, peers
Kim Colberth, head custodian for Brooksville Elementary School, in Brooksville, Maine, relaxes in her favorite place in the school, the library. She was named second best in the state by the Educational Plant Maintenance Association of Maine. “The school shines. It looks great and has for a long time,” said Superintendent Mark Hurvitt who recommended she be nominated.
by Anne Berleant
Being recognized for excellence in one’s chosen profession is never a given, but on June 25 Kim Colberth, who has worked to keep Brooksville Elementary School clean for six years, was named the number two school custodian in the state. The honor came during the 46th annual maintenance and custodial conference at Colby College, held by the Educational Plant Maintenance Association of Maine.
“These are the kind of people we want to celebrate,” said Superintendent Mark Hurvitt, who recommended Colberth’s nomination. “The school shines. It looks great and has for a long time.”
But Colberth is just doing what comes naturally.
“If you’re going to do something, you do it the best you can,” she said. “I think it was the way I was raised.”
It can’t hurt that Colberth also loves the job she does and who she does it for.
“I love to keep things shining…[but] if it wasn’t for the kids it wouldn’t be the same. It would just be a cleaning job.”
If she has spare time on the job, she lends a hand in the school kitchen and reads to the pre-K and kindergarteners. She will also clean up the kinds of icky messes—“crisis intervention,” part-time custodian Michael Maynard called it—that sometimes happens with younger students.
“She becomes the second mother or grandmother for the kids,” he said. “From every stanpdpoint the municipality has done good by hiring her. I do by best to support her.”
There are some details specific to being a school custodian, Colberth learned at the three-day professional conference.
“I sat in on a lot of different speakers,” she said. “Special needs [students]—I never realized if there’s a stain on the ceiling a child could stare at it and lose focus.”
On the practical side, she said she will now time the mowing and weed whacking so as not to disturb classes and school activities. “Award or no award, I learned a lot.”
Colberth came to Brooksville after four years working for the Ellsworth school district, but cleaning isn’t her first job. She grew up in Cherryfield and for 20 years ran a blueberry raking crew every summer for Wyman’s of Maine.
“Long days and very short nights,” she remembered. “Some nights you didn’t see home. You slept in the truck in the field.”
After a successful fight against breast cancer, “I just knew I wanted to go back to work.”
Her sister recommended cleaning as a natural fit and, Colberth said, she was right.
“There’s never a day, no matter how you feel when you get here, that you don’t unlock the door and walk in with a smile on your face. A lot of people can’t say, in their lives, ‘I love my job.’”