Custodial foreman James Lewis had grown accustomed to murmurs of scratching on his early-morning walks through Wilson last year. An eerie skittering of nails often permeated the otherwise silent hallways of an empty school. While Lewis was always the only person in the building that early, a ubiquitous mouse population would ensure that he was never truly alone. But this year, the once-frequent sound of mice has become a rare occurrence.
Facetiously nicknamed “Mickey and Minnie” or “our furry little friends,” Wilson’s mouse population is notorious throughout the school. The unwelcome rodents are commonly used as the butt of jokes and complaints degrading Wilson, and for good reason. Every student has had their fair share of experiences yanking up backpacks and jumping on a chair at the sight of fur scurrying across the classroom floor.
This pervasive mouse community has regularly come at the detriment of student learning. At the end of last year, mice began disrupting English teacher Joseph Welch’s classes on a daily basis. “I took my students outside for a week or two when the mice were at their worst,” Welch said. He also lamented how mice in the gym were a constant distraction for students taking the PARCC test. However, Welch has since noticed a decline in vermin, having not seen an actual mouse, only droppings, at all since school began this fall.
In order to combat pests, members of the administration and custodial team strongly emphasize the necessity of keeping the building clean. Students and staff are repeatedly reminded to pick up trash and only eat in designated areas like the atrium and cafeteria. DCPS also contracts an independent vendor, Pest Services Company, to suppress the mouse population. The company sets up and checks traps on a weekly basis, along with monthly exterminations during which the entire building is closed down to be sprayed and supplied with more traps.
But mice exist naturally in Wilson’s environment, so their complete eradication is an impractical ideal. “Two becomes three, three becomes six, six becomes 12, I mean, they procreate just the same as any species… we can’t control their reproduction, we can just try to control them where they are most active,” Lewis said.
Director of Strategy and Logistics Brandon Hall reiterated Lewis’s approach to containment, explaining, “We live in a city where there are rodents. I think we’re doing a good job of keeping it under control.”
This control has strengthened over the past few months, with the number of mice reaching a noticeable low. “The mouse population has decreased within the last couple of years, by far this is the best year,” said Hall, “I haven’t seen many mice at all, I would normally see ‘Mickeys’ running around, mice poop on my desk, [but] I haven’t seen a mouse in a while.”
While there is no clear cause for the trend in mouse population, Hall and Lewis both attribute it to an increased amount of people working to keep the school clean. “For the most part, [students and staff] are making a conscious effort… listening to the Clean Green Team advertisements, noticing the efforts of our custodial staff, listening to the administrators during STEP, and making sure that they’re doing their part,” Hall said.
Lewis added that “we’ve increased our staff a couple people at night and in the day and so we have more people so we can get to more things quicker.”
Though mouse control seems to be on a positive rise, a major test remains this winter. Between students staying inside and frequent holiday parties, the season sees a high concentration of food in the building and a subsequently high number of mice. But Lewis remains optimistic, noting, “This time of year, I expect that… they’re going to be running wild, but they’re actually not, so that’s a good thing.”
Lewis’s goal is to continue encouraging students and teachers to keep food only in the authorized eating areas. This way, mice are kept in just a portion of the school and their trapping is much more efficient. Still, he is content with the progress made so far. “I’m very happy that when I turn on my computer, I don’t have a whole bunch of teachers sending me stuff, [and] I’m not getting those calls on the walkie talkie, ‘Mr. Lewis, I got a visitor here,’” he said.