(NewsNation) — If you visit Armadillo Technical Institute — a public charter high school in Phoenix, Oregon — you might notice that there are no janitors around. That’s because the school doesn’t employ any.
Instead, the students do all of the basic cleaning and custodial tasks themselves.
Summer Brandon, the school’s executive director, explained that having students clean is part of a larger mission of teaching them how to take care of themselves.
“And so we embed lots of things in our school around that, including it’s not somebody else’s job to pick up after you. It’s our job. We use this space. If the space isn’t feeling good, that’s on us. It’s our space,” she said, arguing that it’s both the culture of the school and a skills-building exercise.
Every day at the end of the day, each class has an area of the school that they are tasked with cleaning up.
“We’re cleaning bathrooms, we’re loading the dishwasher… because it’s an expectation always, it’s not a huge deal,” Brandon said.
She said that students are told from their first day arriving at the school that they’re expected to take part in these duties.
“It’s not a huge deal. There’s certainly a mindset sometimes of students coming in who are not maybe used to taking care of themselves or who are used to the idea that that’s not my job, that’s not my responsibility,” Brandon said. “But we share from the very first day that we interact with them that that’s part of our school culture.”
Although the school doesn’t employ any janitors, they will hire maintenance people to handle those tasks that wouldn’t be appropriate for children. But their first preference is to have the students work on the school.
“So if a gutter falls off, we have a building class that might take that on. That might learn how to understand what’s wrong with, how to pick out the parts that need to be purchased and fix it,” she said.
Brandon argued that the skills they’re teaching kids both help them feel like they’re part of a community and could be useful in their lives going forward.
“If you’re renting a house and something goes wrong could you take care of it yourself instead of paying somebody else to do it? Or could you start with the assumption that it’s your role to try something to find a solution to try a solution and if it’s beyond your skill you could learn that skill,” she said.
The vast majority of U.S. schools employ janitors and do not require students to engage in custodial activities. But Armadillo Tech’s practices are commonplace in one place overseas — Japan. There, schools generally don’t have custodians and ask students to do most of the cleaning.
“School is not just for learning from a book. It’s about learning how to become a member of society and taking responsibility for oneself,” one English teacher working in Japan said of the practice.
But it could be difficult to replicate Armadillo Tech’s practices in the United States.
“It’s certainly easier as a small school. The tighter your community, the easier this will be,” Brandon said.
She added that it’s important not to use the cleaning requirements as a punishment for students because that would defeat the purpose of teaching them how to be members of a community. But she encouraged other schools to give it a shot.
“I hope people take it and try it because I think there’s a lot of benefit for it for the kids and the school and for the larger community,” she said.