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Even Little Makeovers
Make a Big Difference


Many schools would benefit from an extreme makeover but cant afford one, let alone a coat of paint. Some community volunteers are taking on the job of making over rooms and teacher lounges, surprising and delighting school staff. Included: Descriptions of some makeover projects.

Did you ever wish that your school was picked for an extreme makeover? Someone would blindfold you, lead you to the school one morning, and then capture you on film struggling for words to describe the stunning building transformation after the blindfold was whisked away.

Redoing a whole building is a massive job; but making over a room or two and adding some paint and decorations around the building can brighten the atmosphere and spirits. In some districts, parents, community and business volunteers, and educators are taking on the job of makeover artists, redoing rooms or sections of schools, fueled by monetary and material donations -- and a lot of their own sweat.


Whether volunteers redo a room or two or do more extensive work, the efforts are big morale boosters, administrators told Education World.

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One of the most popular targets of parent-led makeovers/renovations is the teachers lounge, often because it either has been displaced or is a long-neglected room with all the charm of a solitary-confinement cell.

Not only does an inviting lounge give teachers a place to unwind, but it can increase opportunities for networking with faculty members.

And unlike other school projects, a lounge makeover is explicitly an act of teacher appreciation. It was a way to thank them and let them know they are well thought of, said Chris Daniels, assistant principal of Thornebrook Elementary School in Ocoee, Florida, whose lounge was transformed in two-and-a-half days.


After hearing a friend in Canada talk about how her PTA was painting a teachers lounge two years ago, Sharon Wolber, then president of the Thornebrook PTA, brought the idea to her members. Wolber and another parent started by taking a good look at the lounge.

The walls were white, the lights fluorescent, the tables industrial it was just such an unpleasant place to go, Wolber told Education World. We wanted a place for them where they could relax and be together.

Combining money the PTA would have applied to a teacher-appreciation lunch with donations, the PTA enlisted the help of a community member who was an interior designer, and about 25 people went into action.

The extreme makeover of the Thornebrook Elementary School lounge made it look like a model room.

We did it all in one weekend -- the teachers left on Friday and we went crazy, Wolber recalled. We stripped and painted, moved in furniture, and finished by 2 p.m. Sunday.

In the spirit of a makeover show, someone filmed Wolber during the whole process, including discarding food way past its expiration date from the refrigerator.

Besides painting and replacing appliances, the volunteers brought in new tables, chairs, and sofas, and even added amenities such as a desktop fountain, a portable stereo, and CDs.

The Thornebrook Elementary School lounge in Ocoee, Florida, before its makeover.

It reminds me of a room you would see on a house tour, said Daniels. I never saw a lounge like this.

On the Monday following the makeover frenzy, the teachers thought they were coming in early for a meeting, but the volunteers greeted them with the videotape of the project, and then took the teachers on a tour.

You can not imagine what it did for morale, Wolber told Education World. They were so floored by what we did for them. They didnt want to leave. The principal complained that for the first time they were late to pick up the kids [in the morning]We were all in tears watching their reaction.


Another stealth lounge makeover that earned glowing reviews took place at Franklin Elementary School in Cadillac, Michigan, in 2006 for Teacher Appreciation Week.

Every year, the PTO does something for staff appreciation week, principal JoyBeth Hicks told Education World. This time they wanted to do something different from the usual breakfast or lunch. And the lounge was in dire need of an upgrade.

Volunteer mothers and fathers came in at 5 p.m. one day and worked all night, Hicks said. They painted the lounge with bright colors such as turquoise, lime, yellow, and purple. They replaced countertops, installed a new sink, brought in new furniture, a microwave, and a refrigerator; put up new curtains, and delivered plants. A father had to repair the sink at the last minute after the volunteers realized it wasnt working and the store was closed.

The lounge was closed the next morning, until an announcement called all staff members to the lounge. Someone said, Oh, good, doughnuts and juice again, noted Hicks. When they opened the door, it was just breathtaking. The whole staff was very appreciative.

The new teachers lounge has become the place to be. Since its been done, everyone has been making an extra effort to keep it clean, added Hicks. Its just very relaxing and theres a lot of laughter there. Its very inviting.


Many communities have local talent on which to draw. Christine Olson, a part-time interior designer and real estate agent, had volunteered in fall 2006 to organize the teacher workroom at Weimar Hills School in Weimar, California. Once she got started on that, Olson decided she might as well redo the teachers lounge as well.

Olson had a vision for the lounge -- she wanted separate spaces for different activities. I really wanted it to be in zones, she said.

It was uplifting, principal Steven Schaumleffel said of the renovation. We have a community that is very supportive of educators, but this was something nice just for the teachers. It helped raise morale across campus.

"It reminds me of a room you would see on a house tour. I never saw a lounge like this.

The schools staff had had a stressful summer and fall. Weimer merged with another school, which added 25 staff members and about 250 students to the building, and teachers had spent time in the summer planning for the consolidation. I knew the teachers had worked so hard over the summer, Olson said.

After organizing the workroom, Olson was joined in her effort by two other women from her real estate firm. They literally began knocking on doors seeking donations, which Olson said was the hardest part of the project. The actual makeover part was a piece of cake, she said. The local businesses are so good about supporting the schools, and they are always getting hit up. I went to some outside the immediate area.

After emptying out the room and painting it, Olson and the volunteers organized the lounge into separate areas for eating, working, and relaxing. She replaced the traditional square tables with round ones, so there would be more room. The makeover included new furniture, a dishwasher, refrigerator, microwave, coffee pot, even matching plates and silverware.

The upgrade made a big difference, Schaumleffel said. Before, the refrigerator had to be defrosted every three weeks and nothing matched. You could take this furniture and move it into your house.

To show their appreciation, staff members prepared and served a formal sit-down tea in the lounge for all the makeover volunteers.

The teachers loved it, Olson said. I think they just expected us to straighten up a bit, maybe paint. Now people spend more time there, have lunch, and socialize.

Olsons talents continue to be in demand. Her sons, who go to another school, said to her after the Weimar project, Do ours next year!


Members of the business community also do more than donate materials and money for makeovers -- many show up with hammers and paintbrushes.

Through a three-way collaboration between Jones NY, Home Depot, and the community organization Greater Philadelphia Cares, the 93-year-old Harrity Elementary School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, got a professional sprucing up.

We have a teacher with a relative who works at Jones NY, Harrity principal Pamela Watson told Education World. An opportunity came up for the company to work in partnership with Home Depot.

About 150 volunteers turned out at the school, where they painted the exterior and interior of the building, including painting quotes from famous African-Americans on the stairwell walls. Volunteers also painted games on the pavement outside. And there were some personal touches.

I have a lovely pink office, Watson noted.

The teachers lounge also was redone, not only getting a paint job, but a new stove, rug, refrigerator, bookshelves, sink, and chairs. The nurses office was redecorated to make it more inviting, thanks to new, more comfortable chairs.


Schools with corporate partners also may be able to get some work done. Mathews Elementary School in Austin, Texas, is part of the FACES of Change program, which pairs employees, customers, and business associates of Crescent Real Estate Equities with schools in low-income areas.

The lounge makeover was on the schools wish list, and was done in the summer of 2005, said Jennifer Smolnick of FACES.

The new teachers lounge at Mathews Elementary School in Austin, Texas.

The school had lost its teachers lounge a few years before because of a space crunch -- it was converted to the assistant principals office, Mathews assistant principal Susanne Fleming told Education World.

Through Crescents efforts, old shower facilities near the schools gym were converted to lounges for parents and teachers, complete with air conditioning, carpeting, and fresh paint.

The parents lounge has a television, computer, toys, table, sink, microwave, and a refrigerator, Fleming said. Parents meet there every Friday and use the room if they are doing work for a teacher. The teachers lounge is equally modern, and a parent decorates it for each season.

The teachers are very proud of it, Fleming said. They get to converse with teachers they dont usually see.


While all these volunteer efforts are laudable, Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association (NEA) told Education World, maintaining schools should be the responsibility of the district -- not parents, community members, and teachers.

I think its admirable that parents do that. It helps teachers morale, Weaver said. Its a good activity for teachers and parents to do together; it bonds them. But why is it that parents have to do that? Parents should go to the board of education and ask, Why do they have to do this?

NEA volunteers work on the grounds at Eccleston Elementary School in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Too often urban schools in particular fall into disrepair, and the air of neglect radiates to students, teachers, and passersby. If you have worn out conditions inside and outside, this creates a negative learning environment for kids and teachers and kids know it, Weaver said.

We need adequate and equitable funding to take care of these things, he continued. And you need the commitment of people to do something. People know about this, but most people dont want to do anything about it. Its not just educators responsibility -- its a shared responsibility.


Until that time comes, though, the NEA is willing to pitch in, too. Through Outreach to Teach, members of the NEAs student program identify a school in the area where the annual convention is held and enlist volunteers to do renovations. Schools submit a wish list and then hope for selection.

I believe it was the answer to our prayers and almost a miracle, said Ruth Haniff, principal of Eccleston Elementary School in Orlando, Florida, and the recipient of the 2006 Outreach to Teach remodeling. It was almost like a renovation. When the teachers and students came back, they were so happy and proud.

Some of the work started before and continued after a designated work day, but most of the remodeling was done in one concentrated effort. One big day did most of it. It really put pep in our step.

Volunteers, who included college students and current and retired educators, planned the improvements with district officials. They painted all the classrooms and the bathrooms, installed new tile in the bathrooms so they are more sanitary; re-did the bulletin boards, and put new blinds in the cafeteria. Bright, new murals were painted around the campus. It looks like such a happy place, said Haniff.

Workers also completely remodeled the teachers lounge, including putting in a new floor, adding two new refrigerators, three microwave ovens, a couch, loveseat, and chair. The media center got new rugs and a new computer was installed in the parent center. Haniff received a much-needed copier-fax machine for her office and all the teachers received some supplies for the start of the school year.

The work did not end inside. Volunteers planted new shrubs and bushes, remulched, and set up two outdoor reading areas with benches.

Almost a year later, Haniff still is gushing. They went above and beyond -- it was like something you see on TV, she said. It really boosted the morale of the staff; the school was built in 1952, and we really need a new school. But what they did made it feel like a new school.

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
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