b'A Beloved Custodian Gets a Warm SendoffLeonel Rocha, man of many hats, retires from TuscanBY ALLISON WEISSLeonel Rocha wearing his many hats. Design by Rob Weiss.C LAP, CLAP,sion of this clap five more times throughout the day,am I doing today? Gee, Im sitting around the house Clap-clap- for each gradehelping kids recognize when it wasagain.clap! time to finish their meals, pick up after themselves,It was not until his daughter, who performed oc-T h eand get in line to return to class. casional information technology work for the South rhythmicIn a school system that values its clap-outs whenOrange-Maplewood school system, encouraged him soundofgrades line up and celebrates moving up ceremoniesto apply for a custodian position that he set foot in twohandsfor those headed on to middle school, high school,the district. When Rocha got a per diem job for the togetherbreaksthroughtheconstantchatterofcollege and beyondTuscan head custodian Rochasdistrict in 2011, he jokes, I went from pencil push-about 100 kindergartners at lunchtime. The 5 andown clap-out came on June 26 after more than aer to mop and vacuum.6-year old students are hushed, still in their seats,decadeintheSouthOrange-MaplewoodSchoolI didnt know what a custodian was. I thought dropping pouches of applesauce from their hands.District. youdcomeinandmovetablesandthatspretty They quieted down and sat up at attentionandRochas time in the district almost didnt happen.much it, Rocha says. He first worked evening shifts with their hands only, signaled back the same rhythmHe was laid off from his factory job of 20 years dur- at South Mountain Elementary for two years, and in unison: CLAP, CLAP, Clap-clap-clap. ing the 2008 financial crisis. That job at a Newarkeventuallymovedschoolsandgotfull-timeem-This ritual was the daily school routine of thepaper company involved pulling and packing prod- ployment, falling under the tutelage of Maplewood head custodian at Tuscan Elementary SchoolLeo- ucts based on daily orders, a position called a picker.Middle School custodian Robert Wise, who recently nel Rocha. It was a ritual that commanded respectSuddenly, unemployed for over a year, Rocha saidretired from the school system after more than 25 in an otherwise loud and rowdy cafeteria every dayhe began to feel like he was drifting, as employmentyears. He was tough, Rocha says, But to me, he shortly after 2 p.m., when lunch was ending for kin- looked bleak. It was not easy. You get up in thewas a mentor. He brought me up under his wing.dergartners. He more or less performed some ver- morning and say Okay, what am I doingwhatTheeveningshiftmeantRochahadtoclean 28/ matters magazine / school 2023'