Measured Success

Measuring cleanliness can foster feelings of respect among students and the staff responsible for keeping schools clean and healthful.

Many students think custodians are hired to pick up after them. And sometimes adult workers voice similarly negative impressions: “These kids act like animals.”

What can education institutions do about this negative and improper thinking?

Microbe measurement

Because of heightened concerns about invisible pathogens such as MRSA and swine flu, improved technologies are available to measure bacteria or organic matter that feeds bacteria. Progressive custodial departments are using these devices — known as ATP meters (used to measure levels of adenosine triphosphate — the energy molecule present in all living cells) — in their day-to-day cleaning rounds. Custodians in many schools have professionalized their approaches, training and equipment, and integrated the use of measured cleaning methods to foster enhanced respect for their roles.

In addition to integrating ATP devices, another possible approach to help close the attitudinal gap would be to adopt more widespread use of fluorescent “revealing” devices. For example, a “black light” used with a fluorescing hand-or-surface treatment will show abundant germ-promoting soil left behind after improper washing. This can be an important educational tool for students as well.

Surveys and wellness teams

Student attitudes about custodians rarely are surveyed in middle and high schools, but it is a good idea. Included in the curriculum of a health class, a survey may prompt great discussion and some change. A survey easily could include questions about custodians and their role in ensuring healthful schools.

A five-to-seven-person school-hygiene and wellness team or committee could be set up with custodians, students, a teacher, an administrator, and even a parent or two. Every school district in the nation has a wellness policy, so such teams or committees easily would fall within the purview of the “other school-based activity” requirement of this policy.

Benchmarking benefits

Selected restroom surfaces such as sinks, mirrors and stall doors could be identified in restrooms throughout the building, including the locker rooms. A portable device such as an ATP meter would record the hygienic condition of these surfaces initially for the new wellness teams. Then through an integrated cleaning and measurement (ICM) approach using high-productivity equipment such as spray-and-vac machines, the surfaces would be cleaned thoroughly.

Students, staff and custodians would re-measure the “cleaned” surfaces, and present the comparison between pre-cleaning and post-cleaning scores. As important as the reduction of infectious organisms and biocontaminants is, these measurements are likely to not only take place, but also to occur often.

Students would then see that custodians with professional training and equipment are not just “people who pick up trash,” but respected professionals helping to make restrooms and schools hygienic. This would help alter the perception of cleaning, enhance respect for the facility and service staff, and by extension, assist in changing the attitude of students who think they can do what they want: throw trash on the floor, urinate on stall doors and dump trash in the commodes.

Students on such wellness teams would begin to feel that custodians are their allies in getting and keeping restrooms more healthful; integrated, measured results can speak volumes. Custodians increasingly would see students as partners in a team effort to have a healthful building. Teachers could use the results in health, biology and science classes to convey valuable lessons and reinforce good behaviors.

For many, seeing is believing, so clean restrooms also would provide a model and prompt a cleanliness trend that would reduce restroom abuse.

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Keating has served as a teacher, governmental liaison, school board member and self-employed educator during his 40-year education career. He founded Project CLEAN (Citizens, Learners, and Educators Against Neglect), a multi-year effort to improve school restrooms worldwide. For more information, visit

Hand-washing habits

Parents optimistically believe their children wash their hands with soap and water 68 percent of the time after using the school restroom, according to a national survey conducted by Bradley Corporation.

Bradley's first Healthy Hand Washing Survey also determined that the spread of the H1N1 virus hasn't changed the majority of American adults' hand-washing habits, as 54 percent of the 1,020 respondents said they “wash their hands no more or less frequently” in public restrooms as a result of the virus. Overall, 87 percent of respondents said they did wash their hands after using public lavatories, but other responses indicated that some may have exaggerated how often they actually did the job correctly. When asked if they had also used soap, the numbers declined only slightly, to 86 percent; yet 55 percent of the group admitted on occasion they've simply rinsed, without using soap.

For more information, visit

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