The children call him Cookie Monster.
“When they see me out (in public), they say ‘Hi, Cookie Monster.’ And their parents say, ‘Who is that?’”
Students in the Marshall School District affectionately call Amado Hernandez by the name of Cookie Monster because during one of his first years working in the district he was covered in construction paper cookies to take pictures with Early Learning Center students.
Hernandez is now also recognized by another name – the Wisconsin Association of School Business Officials (WASBO) 2019 Custodian of the Year. He received the award Feb. 4 during the annual WASBO custodian training at the Kalahari Convention Center in the Wisconsin Dells.
“It was kind of surprising to me because I was not expecting that because it’s the first time in my entire life to get recognized like that,” said the Marshall resident.
Several school district staff members, including facilities service coordinator Dave Farwell, elementary school principal Kathy Kennon and multiple teachers, nominated Hernandez to be one of the four yearly award recipients.
“When Bill Farwell told me I was nominated and told me I was getting it, I was like, ‘Wow,’” Hernandez said. “It’s unbelievable because it’s out of the whole state. I was lucky to be one they picked.
“It feels good and makes you want to do your job even better and it helps to motivate you,” he said.
Hernandez wasn’t just receiving his award at the Kalahari, he was attending the annual two-day training.
“The more you learn, the better for you,” the custodian said.
Hernandez has been working as a custodian in the district for 10 years – seven at the ELC and three at the elementary school where he presently works the daytime shift.
Currently, he and the other custodial staff have been busy keeping the school disinfected during the cold and flu season.
He’s also someone who is asked to help out with electrical and plumbing issues in other buildings. The custodian recalls one of the first times he worked on the mechanics of the ELC’s front doors.
“I said, I can try to do it. I’m not afraid to work with anything,” Hernandez said. “One of the things I tell my supervisor is if a human can make it, a human can fix it. Anything can get fixed.”
Additionally, he is one of the two custodians who plow the school’s parking lots. Sometimes, this entails getting to work at 4 a.m.
One of Hernandez’ favorite parts of his job is interacting with the students.
“They call me Cookie Monster all of the time at the Early Learning Center and elementary school and even the middle school,” he said. “It’s fun to work at the school.”
One thing the custodian does is instill how important it is for them to take advantage of everything they are offered.
Hernandez grew up in Honduras where his family struggled financially. People only attend school if they can afford it. At 29 years old, he came to the United States.
“I didn’t know any English when I got here,” he said. “I said one day I’m going to learn. I’m still working on it, but at least I can communicate.”
Occasionally, when children are being disruptive, they are tasked with assisting the custodian with cleaning the cafeteria after lunch.
“I tell them to look at their shoes. They have shoes. When I was growing up, I didn’t have shoes, I tell them,” Hernandez said. “I tell them there are countries where students can’t afford to go to school or where they teach underneath trees or there are no teachers. They have everything here.”
He also encourages the students to continue their educations.
“Not too many people want this job,” Hernandez said. “I tell them to take advantage of the opportunities so they can have good jobs.”