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Custodian Pat Nicholson of Washington State Wins First CLEAN Award

Custodian Pat Nicholson of Washington State Receives First C.L.E.A.N. Award

Just after Pat Nicholson from the state of Washington and Brownsville Elementary School was named the first recipient of the National C.L.E.A.N. Award, he witnessed a change of behavior at school he didn’t expect.

“Because of the award, we now consider Brownsville to be the cleanest school in America,” says Nicholson, who received the award at the recent NEA Education Support Professional National Conference in Orlando, Florida. “The students are showing a lot more pride in the school, picking up after themselves better, and showing more interest in indoor environmental quality.”

Not that they weren’t already. Nicholson is known at school and around the state for promoting the use of non-toxic, “green” cleaning products, maintaining high air quality control standards, and educating staff and students about the evils of sofas and bean bags, which he says are “asthma trigger reservoirs” that harbor dust mites, molds, pet dander, and other pathogens.

“Custodians are the first line of defense of public health in our schools,” he says. “They should consider using cleaning products that don’t pollute the air or leave a residue behind. We should clean for health, not appearance.”

The C.L.E.A.N. (Custodial Leaders for Environmental Advocacy Nationwide) Award recognizes the contributions that custodians make to public health in their schools, communities, and their profession. Applicants must provide information on their cleaning responsibilities, how they are leaders in school cleanliness, and how they enhance the image of custodians. Applications are evaluated on originality, creativity, ability to sustain results, evidence of teamwork, and program impact. 

In addition to $5,000 cash, the prize includes boxes and boxes of cleaning products and supplies for the school, which Nicholson says got everyone excited and resulted in the declaration of Brownsville being the cleanest school in America.

“The fire in my gut is burning hotter now,” says Nicholson, who remains as alert as ever to new cleaning methods and products on the market that promote a healthier, “greener” school environment.

Nicholson wrote much of the custodial training material for the local school district.  His “cleaning for health” practices contributed to lower absentee rates at Brownsville, located in Bremerton, than at neighboring schools, especially during flu season. Nicholson is also the author of a recent article on carpet cleaning that he wrote for Indoor Air Quality News, an online education magazine.

Above most everything else, Nicholson is also known as the owner of FANG, a custom-painted floor scrubber that looks like a gentle tiger with prominent white fangs and bright orange stripes. After WEA members learned of Nicholson’s award, they created T-shirts with a picture of Fang and Nicholson.

FANG is only one example of Nicholson’s innovative spirit. When he is unable to find the right tool or product for a certain job, he develops his own cleaning procedures, then shares the information at workshops, through print publications, and online.

“It’s not enough to design new ways of cleaning for health,” he says. “You must also share this information with other custodians.”

Since receiving the C.L.E.A.N. award, Nicholson says he’s “found it easier to speak about the challenges that custodians are facing in schools. I especially enjoy correcting misconceptions that some have regarding custodial work and custodians.”

When challenging the status quo, Nicholson is encouraged by members of the Central Kitsap ESP, and from the Washington Education Association (WEA). He serves on the board of both organizations. Association President Mary Lindquist is such an admirer of Nicholson that she arranged to be at the conference in Florida in support.

“I was truly overwhelmed by the support from all ESPs and NEA, and especially the enthusiastic Washington state delegation,” he says. “The ceremony in Orlando blew me away and showed that school custodians are deserving of special recognition and honor for the role that they play as vital partners at schools.”

Custodians from four other schools from across the country were nominated for the award, which is sponsored by the Soap and Detergent Association, the NEA Health Information Network (NEA HIN), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Find more information about the award, and about NEA ESPs working in custodial and maintenance services.