Retired SD62 custodian Jim Black brought his ‘pack’ of BARK ambassadors to a drive-thru for David Cameron Elementary School students during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Black championed the BARK program, which encouraged students to keep their school and homes clean. (Courtesy of David Cameron Elementary)

Retired SD62 custodian Jim Black brought his ‘pack’ of BARK ambassadors to a drive-thru for David Cameron Elementary School students during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Black championed the BARK program, which encouraged students to keep their school and homes clean. (Courtesy of David Cameron Elementary)

Retired school custodian brought BARK to Vancouver Island classrooms

Colwood custodian’s dachshund-inspired cleaning program a delight for students

A now-retired custodian’s cleanup program has left a ‘paws-itive mark’ on a Vancouver Island elementary school.

Jim Black started working as a bus driver for Sooke School District in 2011 before moving into custodial services at Dave Cameron Elementary in Colwood. Because the school was carpeted, keeping the floors clear of paper, pencils, erasers and other school time debris was difficult, and Black started to brainstorm ways they could get the kids involved with keeping the school clean.

Suddenly, BARK was born.

The BARK or ‘be a responsible kid’ initiative was inspired by Black’s daughter’s dachshund Winston, who became the mascot for school cleanliness. On posters around the school, Winston the dog asked students to help keep the school clean and tidy. Each month, the class that had best completed the challenge would win a prize and receive a visit from the BARK ambassador, Black’s stuffed dachshund toy.

READ ALSO: Colwood teachers make drive-thru to say hello to students

Inspired by a real life dachshund, Winston, retired SD62 custodian Jim Black’s stuffed ambassadors did some travelling during the pandemic. (Courtesy of David Cameron Elementary)

“To me it wasn’t that much work because I like seeing that it’s making the kids smile and laugh,” Black said. “That was why I worked as long as I did, because I enjoyed them so much.”

But the program wasn’t just fun, it also worked. The classes who received several visits from one of Black’s stuffed dogs would become ‘BARK certified’ and have a certificate displayed on the wall.

“It immediately had a positive effect. The kids bought it,” Black said with a laugh. “I’d write a little note to the kids, from the dog, saying ‘Good job, keep it up!’”

“I was kind of a big kid when I was working there.”

As the popularity of the BARK program grew among students, so did Black’s collection of ‘helpers.’ His ‘pack’ of stuffed dachshunds – and even a few cats – helped him and his custodial partner reward more classrooms for their help keeping the school tidy.

“One of my favourite jobs was pretending I was the animal,” Black said. “And they all had names. Winston was the first one, of course.”

READ ALSO: Sooke School District continues to grow

Terry Honer, principal of David Cameron Elementary, said students loved the program.

“Kids loved it. They responded so well,” he said. “It was a feel-good program.”

Honer said the BARK program will be remembered in the school, along with Black himself.

“This was his legacy,” Honer said. “And he continued it up until he retired.”

During the pandemic, BARK went on patrol, with Black’s masked pack of dachshunds joining him for a drive-thru parade in April. The program also went virtual. As he neared his December retirement, Black came up with a plan to find homes for each of his stuffed helpers.

Parents and guardians were asked to write in about how their kids had kept their home or room clean, and students’ names were drawn from a hat. Winners took home one of Black’s dachshunds, along with an adoption certificate.

But Winston, the original stuffed dachshund, stayed home with Black to enjoy some well-deserved retirement years.

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