On the watch: A day in the life of a campus staff assistant

Emma Peters

After 18 years as the Campus Staff Assistant, Levi Hooks still doesn’t like waking up early. Yet every weekday, he rises at 4:30 a.m., rubs his eyes, and drives the long drive from Sebastopol to Larkspur to get to school by 7:30 a.m. to set out the orange cones in the front parking lot.

Last Friday, I woke up groggily at seven to meet Hooks, a Cincinnati native, at his office in Room 107 by 7:30. His desk was messy with papers and pictures. A silk embroidery painting of a Chinese man hung on the wall, a gift made by students from Redwood’s former sister school in China that would have been tossed had he not saved it years ago. He rose from his swivel chair, politely opened the door for me, and we stood up to start the day. Our first stop: the front parking lot.

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By 7:40 a.m., a silver-gray pickup truck sped through the lanes of the front parking lot with a disquieting speed. Hooks’ head snapped up. His 6’3’’ frame hovered easily above the parked cars as he scanned for the culprit. He had already placed orange cones along at the entrance and a sign demanding drivers to “Slow Down.”

“They know that I’m waiting for them,” Levi said.

He took confident and easy strides right up to the front window of the truck.

“Way too fast,” Levi told the junior boy, his voice firm, but non-threatening. “And where is your parking permit? You need a parking permit to park here.”

There were two more incidents like this in the parking lot before 8 a.m., one with a frantic mother illegally parked in the handicapped zone, and another with a truck parked directly on top of a curb. In each instance, Hooks had a careful way of speaking to people.

“If you walk towards someone and you’re shouting, they feel like they are under attack,” Hooks explained. “If you walk toward them and treat them as if they are intelligent, lots of times they will respond even if they are angry.”

A half-hour after class started, Hooks made the rounds checking parking permits. He knows all of the cars and their owners in the reserved parking lot. One by one he called out the cars.

The rest of the day, Hooks and the other two Campus Staff Assistants Jose Rico and Ryan Shaw monitor different areas of campus. Often they patrol alone, each in their own area, which rotates every two weeks.

On this particular Friday, Hooks patrols the front parking lot, the gym, the locker and fitness rooms, and then the tennis courts. Afterwards, he climbs up the stairs to the second floor of the main building, and then strolls past Heatherwood Park behind the football field, and around the school, keeping an eye on underclassmen walking along Doherty Drive during lunch. Later he inspects the laminating machine and copiers from the Service Room. He must repeat this whole routine every hour, but any issue with a student takes priority.

Next week, he will monitor the back parking lot, which has a more ruthless dynamic of “people trying to cut through anywhere.”

Hooks said he easily walks over 10,000 steps in his eight-hour workday.

As we went through the fitness room, Hooks mentioned how he likes to play volleyball and run track, although he rarely finds time to attend the games.

His other passion is playing the drums, a pastime he seldom discusses but openly speaks of with a modest grin when prompted.  His jazz, blues, and rock band called “Namely Us” has played at the Sleeping Lady in Fairfax once or twice a month for the past 14 years.

“It’s been a long time, and it’s still fun,” Hooks said.

Occasionally, Hooks’ love of music crosses over with his work. Two years ago, when the Grammy Award winner Booker T. Jones visited the music department as a guest artist, Hooks played drums with him, the “R & B legend.”

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Still, Hooks knows that his reputation among some students is less flattering.

“Most students here think we are here to ‘get them,’” Hooks said.  “They even tease me when I go into a classroom to give a teacher a pass and say ‘Ooh, who is he going to get now?’, or ‘Who is going to disappear?’”

Even if he is perceived as the “bad guy,” Hooks feels he has a responsibility to set a good example for students. He doesn’t smoke or drink alcohol, and he tries to stay fit.

“If we continue to not tell someone to do something I feel like I should set an example for them,” Hooks said. “I try to speak from experience so I can explain from the heart.”

Despite having to do difficult jobs like pulling a student out of class, Hooks said the best part of his job is interacting with the students.

“The refreshing part about working in a high school is that there is a different atmosphere than the young people I see in clubs and private parties that I play in,” Hooks said with a chuckle. “Every year you get a new crop of students. To watch a freshman grow and learn about themselves and learn about life, and then graduate as a senior, is kind of fun.”

Those that he once disciplined often come back to the school, apologize, and thank him for teaching them a lesson. Those Hooks once caught smoking cigarettes now thank him for catching them.

Hooks has no children. Instead, he muses that all 1500 students are in a way, his kids. He’s a different kind of teacher, parent, mentor. He has a tough job, but he checks students’ seatbelts driving off to lunch, says “Good Morning” and “Happy Friday.”