Park City High School custodian honored for years of serving students, school
As soon as Cande Ponce’s name was read, students in the audience shouted, clapped and jumped to their feet. They wanted to show the man who always does so much for them how much they appreciate him.
Ponce, who has been a custodian at Park City High School for 10 years, was recently named Utah’s 2019 Outstanding Education Support Professional of the Year. The award was presented by the Utah School Employees Association during an assembly at the school last week.
Representatives from the association, including President Jason Lewis, visited the school to honor Ponce and all of the education support professionals in the district, including bus drivers, cafeteria workers, nurses, paraprofessional educators and maintenance workers.
“All these professionals work behind the scenes to ensure the learning environment in our school buildings is nurturing, safe, positive and supportive. Today, we honor them and sing their praises,” Lewis said during the ceremony.
After thanking district employees for the work they do, Lewis called Ponce to the stage. In shock, Ponce stepped up to a platform to receive his award, thank the audience and say, “I love you kids.” He said his favorite part of the job is “everything.”
Lewis also announced that Ponce is invited to attend the National Education Association Conference in Las Vegas in March. There, the winner of the national association’s Education Support Professional of the Year will be named, and Ponce is in the running.
What made Ponce stand out was how much he cares for the students. Roger Arbabi, the principal of PCHS, has been at the school for only a few months, but he said he realized on day one what an asset Ponce is to the team.
“He knows the kiddos, he knows the staff, he is supportive and hard-working,” he said. “He is a well-rounded, wonderful person.”
Amanda Allen, a senior and co-captain of the high school’s cheerleading team, said almost all of the students at the school love him. She said he is a friendly face students can rely on.
“No matter if you know him or not, he’ll always ask you if you’re having a good day,” she said.
And she has seen how hard he works, which is why she is glad he was honored. She and the rest of the cheer team stood on the stage and yelled “Way to go Cande, way to go,” after he received his award.
“I’m always at the high school at 6:30 a.m. doing student council stuff and he is there, working hard,” she said.
Bob Edmiston, a former assistant principal at the high school and the current principal of McPolin Elementary School, attended the ceremony to celebrate Ponce. He said Ponce was always a hard worker, but did not put himself in the spotlight. He is glad he is getting the recognition he deserves.
Following the ceremony, Ponce admitted that he does not like grand parties to celebrate him.
“It’s unexpected for me,” he said in Spanish during an interview. “I prefer to be back there than in front.”
But, he said he was grateful for the honor.
Ponce said he did not choose to be a custodian, but rather that the job chose him. Before becoming a custodian, he was working three jobs to make ends meet. When he saw the opening for the custodian job, he thought it would be better for himself and his family.
He still works two jobs — he helps his wife run the family-owned Hispanic grocery store in Coalville called Neena’s Market — and he said he gets tired sometimes. But he loves working for the kids in the district and watching them succeed.
He thinks the reason why students like him is because he respects them and gives them advice when he can. If he sees they are making a bad decision, he is not scared to call them out. He reminds them to think about their future and to have hope.
“I help them with all that I can,” he said. “I like the job and I like to help the kids. When they come to me and ask if I am busy, I always say, ‘Yes, I am busy, but what can I do for you?’”
The arsenic-and-lead-containing soil has been a contentious issue for the district, which piled it onto the junior high campus in actions that were later discovered to be in violation of a covenant with the Environmental Protection Agency.
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