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Mequon school custodian is a pen pal to the students

Nikki Robson, the head custodian at Donges Bay Elementary School, poses with the mailboxes she created for the school’s pen pal club.

Nikki Robson, the head custodian at Donges Bay Elementary School, poses with the mailboxes she created for the school’s pen pal club.

June 3, 2014

Mequon — Nikki Robson is not your typical custodian.

In fact, "Miss Nikki" dismisses her official title of head custodian at Donges Bay Elementary School. Instead, she refers to herself as the school's caretaker. After talking with her for a couple minutes, you will soon see why.

When a first-grade student accidentally knocked a base board off the wall, his teacher asked the young boy to write an apology letter to Nikki. The student wrote the letter, and Nikki responded with a letter of her own that applauded him for taking responsibility for his actions.

The student beamed with pride when he received the letter, causing Nikki to start a pen pal club with the rest of the students at Donges Bay.

Nikki's pen pal club has gotten so popular over the last three months that she now has 142 student pen pals. One day she received 62 letters. The pen pal club became so popular that teachers had to limit the students to writing Nikki once per week. Now, she said she receives about 15 to 20 letters per day.

If students leave her a note, she promises to respond that day. Nikki starts her shift 90 minutes early, uses lunch hour and stays late to ensure this happens.

The students write to Nikki about everything from their favorite school subjects to their favorite soup recipes to stories from their family vacations. They also ask Nikki to share a little about her own life, like her favorite food — pizza with pineapple — and her hidden talent, which is drawing. Once the students found out that Nikki likes to draw, they started asking her to draw pictures.

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"I had 50 kids asking me for pictures, so I told them to give me three choices (of what to draw) and I'll pick," she said. "That way they're surprised."

Nikki ends all of her letters, with her signature sign-off of "Shine on Superstar! Love, Nikki." Now, the kids are starting to end their letters to Nikki with "Shine on Superstar."

Flipping through the huge stack of students' letters, Nikki smiles and laughs as she shares some of her favorite stories. The color of letters span the rainbow's spectrum, and are covered with glitter, smiley faces and drawings. Nikki started making faces out of the students' names, and the students have responded by making smiley faces out of Nikki's name.

"This is what is so awesome about this whole thing — the time it takes to invest in another person" Nikki said as she held up a particularly decorative letter.

Nikki has been with the school district for four years but was promoted to head custodian at Donges Bay in October. She started the Pen Pal Club after five months on the job. After three months of writing letters, Nikki shows no sign of slowing down any time soon.

The doorway to Nikki's office is covered with colorful decorations from kids, and the sign on her door says "caretaker" instead of custodian. Because for Nikki, taking care of the building is just the beginning of her job duties.

"I don't know any custodians or janitors who ties 20 kids' shoes per day. I don't know janitors or custodians who do what I do," she said. "I prefer caretaker because I care about everything: the land, the building and the people."

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