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An Unsung Hero
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Mirna Ruiz (above), supervisor of the overnight janitorial team, wipes off a desk in a UPrep math classroom. 

An Unsung Hero
Mirna Ruiz works hard to keep UPrep clean

By Carter H., The Puma Press Editor-in-Chief

Every day, when the clock strikes 2:55 p.m., and students across the school close their computers, pack up their things, and rush out the front door, Mirna Ruiz, supervisor of the overnight janitorial team, enters ready to start her shift. 

Ruiz, along with three other custodians, is responsible for cleaning the school every night. She spoke with The Puma Press about her experience. Due to language barriers, the interview was conducted in Spanish and translated into English.

“We arrive and start in each classroom. We clean the tables, we arrange the chairs, we clean the whiteboard,” Ruiz said. “Then, we leave it ready to be vacuumed, and we go onto another floor.” 

Her crew later comes back to vacuum the rooms.

Before her workday begins, Ruiz likes spending time with her granddaughter.

On nice days, she enjoys taking her golden retriever on walks.

“I like to take her to the park,” Ruiz said. “She is very affectionate and she also likes to run.”

In addition to spending time with her granddaughter and dog, Ruiz loves to cook food from her home country of Ecuador, especially shrimp ceviche and a soup dish called “Bola de Verde.”

Born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Ruiz immigrated to the United States in her early 40s. However, getting a visa took many years to accomplish. 

“I left my country for my daughter. When she was 15, she told me she wanted to come here. She could not see herself living in my country,” Ruiz said.

She finally made the journey in the early 2000s. Due to family connections, Ruiz was able to obtain the required paperwork to immigrate.  

“My dad was already living in Florida and I said to him, ‘Oh Pa, you know I love my daughter. She wants to go to the United States. Please arrange the papers and make the request for me.’ And that took a long time,” Ruiz said. “After 10 years, the papers came, and we made the decision to move.”

Ruiz has been working a 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift at UPrep for more than 10 years. Before UPrep, her cleaning company, Mary Kay, assigned her somewhere else until she left the country due to a family emergency.

“My mom got very, very sick in Ecuador, so I left for around four months in order to be with her. I stayed there until she died,” Ruiz said. “When I came back, there was obviously someone at my old company working for me. The company told me there was a part-time job at UPrep. After that, I started moving forward, and I am now the supervisor of the janitor department.”

Ruiz relies on efficiency and organization to clean the school effectively. She works with facilities assistant Micah Green to get information.

“Sometimes it is difficult when there is something going on in the theatre, or a practice that runs late. But Micah gives me a schedule of when they end so I can tell the person who cleans there to wait until the end and then come back so we can leave school ready for the next day,” Ruiz said.

When the school is all clean, Ruiz heads home. However, despite it being late at night, her day is not over. 

“I’ve been taught to work at that time, so I normally stay awake,” Ruiz said. “I make tea, read emails, and watch TV.”

UPrep student Carter H. in front of UPrep


How did you come up with this story idea?

We stayed late to work on the first issue. Then, some of the cleaning people came in and dumped out the trash. We talked about how we don’t know these people who are helping with our community. The school becomes dirty every day. All we see is it being clean the next day, but we don’t know how or who does it. We decided that it was important to let the community know who these people are that are helping us.

What was it like to interview Mirna in Spanish?

When I started interviewing Mirna, I realized that she knew English but not enough to have a functional interview. I went over to [Journalism Teacher] Scott and said, ‘what do I do?’ And he said, ‘just figure it out.’ I’m in Spanish 5, so I did a 30-minute interview with her in Spanish. It was really cool because I realized I knew a lot more Spanish than I thought I did. I was able to have a real conversation with her and ask follow-up questions. I’m sure she realized I was still learning. She was pretty patient with me; I probably made no sense at times. My Spanish teacher helped me find an app to transcribe the recorded interview and then we found another app to translate the Spanish to English, and I made sure the translation was correct.

What surprised you while working on this article?

I didn’t realize the small amount of people that clean our school. There’s only 4 people that clean from 3 to 11—that’s a lot of ground to cover.

What did you learn while working on this piece?

I was able to put a face to the work that happens every time someone spills something or makes the school dirtier. I saw the people that have to work to make it better. That makes me want to do my part to keep the school clean even more, now that I know who the person is who is in charge of cleaning the school. It’s not a force. It’s an actual person who does it. That’s what I tried to get across in the article. I hope that people who read this article will understand that we live in a community. Your actions have consequences: someone has to clean it up. My mom repeats this over and over, ‘If you don’t do it, I have to do it. It creates more work for me.’ Working on this story [clarified the idea] that it doesn’t disappear when you leave a mess. Someone has to clean it up.


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