Norma Martinez lights up when she speaks about the supportive team she has at her job as a cleaner at the Ralph Bunche elementary school, in Queens.
“We get along like a family, it’s so nice,” she said. “We help one another, that’s the main thing, no arguments. Just do what we have to do and that’s it; complete the job.”
Martinez has been working at PS 132Q, and occasionally at another nearby school, for about three years. This is her first job as a school cleaner after being laid off from a customer service job at a corporate company.
“I decided to apply for anything – anything that I could – so I went to Indeed and got a job cleaning. I enjoy it.”
She says she is the first female cleaner at the school and works with a team of men who are always helpful, especially in “bringing the garbage” down the three flights of stairs as there are no elevators. The teachers are always polite, she said, and the principal is kind and appreciates the work she does.
“He likes what the team does, he’s very pleased about it,” she said.
Work was interrupted last March when she became critically ill with COVID-19 and was hospitalized in the ICU for 10 days. Recuperation was challenging but “little by little” she said she started to feel stronger and started exercising, walking and breathing with ease. She was able to return to work in July and is grateful that she is feeling better.
Her workday begins in the afternoon after the students leave. The teachers usually leave at about 2:40 p.m. The cleaning team then has access to all the classrooms that they clean thoroughly, then lock, so that no one can access them until the next day. The school followed a blended learning model most of the year where some students attend in-person and others learn remotely.
Since the pandemic started, the cleaning process has intensified, Martinez said. She now wears two masks, a cap and a face shield, and has a tank on her back that’s filled with a disinfecting solution that is used to spray “the desks, the chairs, everything.” Handrails are also thoroughly cleaned and sweeping and mopping the classrooms and staircases and disinfecting the bathrooms are part of her normal routine.
Martinez enjoys listening to music and spending time outdoors when not working.
“I like to do the walking marathons,” she said. “I miss my Avon Walk and my Revlon Walk – those type of activities in Central Park.”
Martinez looks forward to the days when everybody gets back to normal, enjoying a day at the beach and “just hugging and kissing your family.”