Michael Ahrendt, or Mr. Michael to the students, has worked as a custodian at Basswood Elementary School for five years, but the impact he has on students goes far beyond the traditional job requirements.
“I try to make the kids' days exciting, because not everyone goes home to a happy place,” Ahrendt said. “If I can get them to come here and smile and have a little bit of happiness, then that's a good day. That's a part of my job too, not just to clean but to engage with the kids.”
Ahrendt became a custodian after realizing he needed a job change while working as a certified nursing assistant. He worked nights as a floater in multiple schools, then came to Basswood to fill in at night while someone was out. He jumped at the chance to stay at Basswood when a permanent spot opened up at night and worked that shift for four years until the day spot opened up. Throughout, he knew that Basswood was the place that he wanted to be.
“All the students and staff were really kind and appreciated the work that I did,” Ahrendt said.
Ahrendt counts his interactions with students, with their smiling faces and positive energy, as his favorite part of the job. He enjoys working with elementary students because of how receptive and curious they are and how much they want to help. In the cafeteria, there are eight smaller brooms for students to help with sweeping after lunch. The students always volunteer to help before going to recess. Oftentimes, they don’t have enough brooms because so many students want to help. Ahrendt enjoys getting to talk to the students while working alongside them.
“It brings a lot of awareness for them and then they take pride in their school, which in turn makes it easier for us to do our jobs,” Ahrendt said.
In a typical day, Ahrendt arrives in the morning and starts working on any tickets that were submitted, such as raising or lowering desks, cleaning up any spills, or salting and brushing snow in the winter. He then helps get breakfast set up, waiting to clean up any spills where needed. After lunch, he wipes down the tables, washes the floors and cleans the kitchen. With the rest of his day, he picks up trash, vacuums and cleans the bathrooms.
“The kids make it worthwhile coming. They say thank you and we appreciate you, and the staff does too,” Ahrendt said. “I love it. I am very content here.”
It is evident to see the impact Ahrendt has on students just by seeing him interact with them in the hallways. The students are all excited to see Mr. Michael, and he stops to talk with them, give out high fives and show off a few magic tricks. When he complimented one student’s new haircut, the smile on the student’s face showed what the attention meant to him.
“We are just custodians, but we make a way bigger impact than we think we do. I think that is true throughout life, but especially here doing this, I have realized that we are more important than we think we are,” Ahrendt said.
Ahrendt appreciates working at Basswood because of his dedicated coworkers on the custodial team and throughout the building. He feels that each staff member comes together to support students. One memory that stands out to Ahrendt during his time at Basswood was the show the staff put on for the students a few weeks ago where they performed dance routines to different songs.
"Michael does a great job of caring for Basswood and works hard to make our school shine. He can often be seen singing and dancing as he cleans," said Basswood Principal Steven Steven Schwartz. "Michael is a fantastic worker, but his real gift is the way he cares for students and staff. The students love Michael because he makes them feel seen and heard."
In his free time, Ahrendt enjoys spending time with his daughter and nephews and nieces. When he is not at work, he is often at the gym, which he is very passionate about.