San Francisco school custodian making a difference one student at a time

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- There is a well-known quote that says, "Each of us is a unique strand in the intricate web of life and here to make a contribution." That pretty much describes Miguel Cuellar, a custodian at McKinley Elementary in San Francisco. For his many contributions to the school, he is one of the top finalists in a nationwide custodian of the year contest.

He is one of first to arrive at McKinley Elementary in the morning and among the last to leave.

He insists that the students call him by his first name, Mr. Miguel.

"My last name is Cuellar and they can't pronounce Cuellar, so they call me Miguel, Mr. Miguel," he explains.

He greets a group of students in the cafeteria with a smile, "Hola ninos, hola otra vez."

"He goes above and beyond to be nice and he's very welcoming to all of us," says Sam Gleason, a student at McKinley Elementary.

"He's funny, he makes jokes and he's nice," adds Keemon Jean Jacques, another McKinley student.

As a custodian here for the past 17 years, Cuellar's duties go beyond these hallways. He's quick to give advice to anyone who wants or needs it, especially the newly arrived students.

"Be focused in the class, respect the elders, to make sure to respect the school," is among the many things he tells them.

"If you are part of a community, your actions matter, if you make a mistake or you have an action that is negative to that community, it has an impact and he helps people understand that," explains Molly Pope, the school principal.

Students here have learned that any kind of work can be done by all.

"I have cleaned outside on the yard and the cafeteria," says student Sam Snow.

It was because of his contributions to the school community that the staff submitted his name to a national custodian-of-the-year contest.

This year there were nearly 4,000 nominations. Right now there are 10 finalists. Mr. Miguel is the only one from the San Francisco Bay Area.

The winner will receive $5,000 from Cintas-- a company that services businesses. The school would also get a $5,000 makeover. The winner will be determined by the number of votes submitted online.

Regardless of who wins, Mr. Miguel says coming to San Francisco from his native El Salvador 35 years ago has given him opportunities he could never foresee.

"It's given me everything that I needed, everything that I want," he states with a smile.

Now through April 19, the public is encouraged to vote for their favorite custodian by going here.

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