Spick and span (5:11 p.m.)

Published 5:54 pm Tuesday, February 24, 2009

By 5 o’clock, Yvonne Silas is usually unwinding from her day’s work as head custodian at Montevallo Middle School. But some days the wife and mother of three willingly puts in extra hours.

“If I stay here it’s something I want to do,” Silas said. “This is my job, and this is what I love doing.”

Silas works eight-hour days mopping, sweeping and dusting the school she calls “the little jewel in the community.” She holds Montevallo Middle in high regard because of its significance in her family’s history.

Silas’ brother and sister both attended Montevallo Middle when it was Prentice High School, the African-American high school during segregation. A generation later, Silas’ children walked the school’s halls.

Silas has been an eyewitness to the school’s evolution, and today, after 12 years of service, she walks the halls surrounded by diverse faces. Her custodial responsibilities are her way of saying thanks to the school that gave her family the gift of knowledge.

When she allows herself a break, Silas spends her time talking to students, and listens to their daily frustrations. The conversations range from extracurricular activities to students’ disdain for P.E. class. No matter the topic, Silas always offers words of encouragement.

“I love to talk to them because they have a lot of things to say, and they feel comfortable talking to me,” she said. I tell them, ‘What can be so hard about putting on shorts and a T-shirt and playing unless you don’t have a gym suit?’”

“I don’t mind giving my money to a kid in need of something like a gym suit, especially if I have it,” she said.

Silas removes a pushbroom from the custodian’s closet and continues her work. She makes a short walk to the teacher’s lounge, where she empties the garbage and splashes water on her hands to open those pesky trash can liners. At day’s end, the school shines like the jewel Silas wants it to be.

“I won’t go anywhere else,” she said. “I love the people, I love the kids and I love the atmosphere.”