A little while ago, no one was dancing at a P.S. 15 school fair until Delores Perry started dancing with her broom. Before she knew it, the kids around her were dancing and her broom turned into a limbo stick. She’s the heart of her school, but she’s the heart of her family, too.
There aren’t many women who work as school cleaners in the New York City education system, but Lolo, as she’s known, happens to be following in the footsteps of the woman who taught her the trade. When she attended P.S. 15 in Brooklyn growing up, her aunt was the school cleaner. Lolo remembers her making it a point to teach children to clean up after themselves. “I am not your maid. I am here to keep you safe,” she recalls her aunt saying.
Years later while rising up the ranks to manager of a McDonald’s in Columbus Circle, Lolo also worked part time cleaning the school with her aunt. “When she walked the hallway, everyone could feel the magnitude of her character. The custodian never questioned her because everything was always in order under her charge,” she says proudly.
While she never thought she’d end up with the same job, she is thankful of the legacy her aunt left behind. Today, Lolo cleans the same school building she attended – only now there are two schools in the same building. She cleans the whole second floor and the common areas including the cafeteria on the first floor. She’s been there for 27 years and seen three principals come and go, including her childhood principal.
She’s got job stability, but she’s frustrated. While her kids are all grown, she supports her two grandchildren and takes them to school every day. She’s helping out while her daughter gets back on her feet and can support the 5 and 7 year olds again. It’s why she puts in overtime every chance she gets. Because although it’s no minimum wage, her salary still has her living paycheck to paycheck. No contract in five years means no raise in five years, but it doesn’t mean no rent increase in five years.
“I’ve got to hold things together for my grandchildren,” she says. “I always have to look out for the kids.”