How a Fairfax Co. custodian motivates students to attend class

On Custodian Appreciation Day, Little Run Elementary honors Frank Sarfo for his work every day at the Fairfax County school. (Courtesy Fairfax County Public Schools)

In the cafeteria at Little Run Elementary School in Fairfax, Virginia, on Monday, students stopped focusing on their food and turned their attention to custodian Frank Sarfo.

Because Monday is Custodian Appreciation Day, Principal Christie Yarn said, students started chanting “Mr. Frank! Mr. Frank” to celebrate the beloved school employee.

The school also put up a banner honoring some of its employees, Yarn said, and planned a staff appreciation lunch.

During the day, Sarfo is responsible for opening the building and checking the exterior. He also makes sure teachers have copy paper, cuts the grass and helps keep the property clean so kids don’t get sick, he said.

But Sarfo also works to help motivate students to come to class, at a time when many D.C.-area schools are reporting increases in chronic absenteeism.

If he sees that students are outside and seem reluctant to come into the building, he’ll approach them and insist they go to class. If a student needs their bike repaired, Sarfo assists with that, too.

“I want the kids to be happy, like they are in their home,” Sarfo said. “I treat them like my daughter and my son because if I’m in the house, and my daughter is doing something wrong, I have to teach her.”

And if they think about skipping school, Sarfo said they may then consider, “When I come (to school), Mr. Frank will talk to me.”

Sarfo, who is from Ghana, has been working in the school for almost seven years. Yarn said his name was one of the first she learned upon taking over as principal in spring 2022.

“We look at everyone within our community as experts,” Yarn said. “We have teachers who are experts in math; we have teachers who are experts in language arts. Well, Frank is an expert in ensuring that our building is a safe place for our students to come to every day.”

Frank Sarfo is responsible for opening Little Run Elementary and checking the exterior. (Courtesy Fairfax County Public Schools)

Sarfo is able to “connect with kids that sometimes it’s not easy to connect with,” Yarn said.

When Sarfo is in the cafeteria, he’ll sometimes walk by a student who isn’t eating, and he’ll stop and try to make them laugh, which in many cases motivates them to eat.

“I love the kids,” Sarfo said. “I love the teacher, the principal, all the staff.”

That comes through during the annual sixth grade versus staff kickball game. Sarfo puts his soccer uniform on, and when he approaches the field, the kids cheer, Yarn said.

“The work that he does with students, and helping them feel like they belong, to help them feel comfortable and settled here at school, is just an essential part of what I see him doing every day,” Yarn said.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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