Most people spend no more than six years at high school, but Elva Keenan has vastly extended her stint at Newcastle High, and has no plans to leave what has been her home for half a century.

Seventy-six-year-old Elva works for Ventia on the NSW Whole of Government Facilities Management Services contract. She began life at the high school as a cleaner when she was 26, and has seen a lot of changes over the past 50 years.

When she started, it was an all-girls school, but it became co-ed in 1975, as there were two girls' schools already in the area.

"The girls were so excited they were getting boys at the school," Elva said.

Since then, Newcastle has grown into a major city, and this year student numbers have reached an all-time high of 1,200.

Elva even lived on the school grounds for about seven years in the late '90s.

While always working hard to keep the school safe and clean, she has had several employers during her long tenure, initially with the NSW Government, and from 2006 with Transfield Services, which then became Broadspectrum, and now Ventia.

So what makes someone stay at the same place for 50 years? Several reasons, according to Elva.

"There's the satisfaction of keeping the kids safe, and watching the new Year 7 students transform into young adults in Year 12," Elva said. 'But also being involved in a community, where I've seen tens of thousands of children and generations of families go through these gates.'

Some of Newcastle High School's former students have gone on to become household names, like actress Miranda Otto and surfer Mark Richards.

Three boys, Daniel, Ben and Chris, became overnight sensations while they were still at the school, bursting onto the Australian rock scene as Silverchair in 1994.

"They were good kids, and there was a lot of pride and excitement when they became famous," Elva said.

"Daniel gave his guitar to the school, which is on display in the admin building." 

Every job has its challenges though, and COVID-19 has radically changed the way we deliver cleaning services for our clients, and Elva's role is no different.

"One of the challenges has been keeping the school up to the new cleanliness standards during COVID-19," Elva said. 

"People are quick to say: 'it's the cleaners' job' too."

Despite this, Elva said she loves her job and enjoys coming to work each day, so decided to keep working after she turned 65.

"I was healthy and had no need to be at home," Elva said. 

"Keeping my body and mind healthy by working, and having a routine and structure has kept me in a place where I can continue to work.'

Coming to work gives me a sense of belonging each day.

Born in Grafton on the NSW North Coast, Elva moved to Newcastle in the 1960s when she married her first husband, and after being a Novocastrian for more than 50 years, she has no plans to leave, and no retirement date looming.

"I get asked all the time: 'when are you going to retire?'," Elva said.

"Some days it looks so good, but I think I'll hang in a bit longer."