POWHATAN – The teachers and staff of Flat Rock Elementary School had a surprise waiting for them when they started back for their spring semester.
Unbeknownst to them, the school’s PTO and a team of administrators and coaches had teamed up to give them an oasis of calm in an often hectic little world.
After weeks of planning, a small group of staff members came in during the winter break and converted an old computer lab into a new teacher workspace that can be used by all, said Christy Berry, Flat Rock PTO president.
The room has two purposes – providing a small breakroom when teachers and staff need to collect themselves and also offering a relaxing space when educators want to come together for personal or professional meetings.
“We wanted our teachers and staff to know how much they are appreciated by not only the PTO but all the parents in the school,” Berry said. “Flat Rock is like family. The teachers and staff are phenomenal. We would like to give them back a place where they can come to just relax, take a breath and have a change of scenery from the classroom during their planning period.
“It is really just a small way to say we know you guys work so hard and take such good care of our babies. Here is a little spot for you guys to come and enjoy,” she said.
On the school side, Dr. Martha Powers, assistant principal, helped spearhead the project. She said Heather Kerns, PTO vice president, approached her in the fall about doing something for the teachers, although the real idea hadn’t been hatched yet.
The administration had already been contemplating what to do with an old computer lab since the school division’s Chromebook initiatives have made it almost obsolete, she said. Gradually the ideas gelled, and a sketch for the room was approved by everyone.
The PTO provided most of the funds for the project, which Berry estimated cost about $4,500.
Then, on Sunday, Jan. 5, a group of administrators, coaches, and a few family members came in to paint the room, assemble the furniture, and add the finishing touches to make it a special place for staff to visit, Powers said.
The room has three distinct areas. One is made up of several groups of four large student desks, where staff can either sit alone or with others. In a corner by the window are sofas and comfy chairs designed to create a completely calming atmosphere for people to meet. The last part is a little café area, complete with a pub table and coffee and snacks stations that the PTO will restock, she said.
“It is the little things that matter and having it all come together has been pretty amazing,” Powers said.
Primarily, the goal was to let teachers and staff know how much what they do is appreciated, Powers said. She looks at it not only as a place to collaborate but for them to have space to recharge and get away from their classrooms.
Principal Tanja Atkins-Nelson commended Powers for being the champion of the project as well as the teamwork of the “school and fabulous PTO.” She said it has been a great team building activity for the administration and coaches.
Even in the few days after the room was opened, Atkins-Nelson said she could already see how its purpose could evolve. Some of the ideas that have been suggested by employees since it opened include a place for Bible studies, yoga, and a small book sharing library.
“We had a teacher doing a book club today. I think we had a vision in mind, but our teachers helped to shape the vision as well based on their needs,” she said.
Angela Innerbichler, third grade teacher, said she didn’t know what to expect when she heard about the room but she was more than pleasantly surprised. It is a calming room, between the soft colors and comfortable furniture.
“It is just a different atmosphere than our classrooms, even though we try to make them as comfy and calming as possible,” she said.
Innerbichler added that having the room makes her feel spoiled but also happy that the organizers wanted to spoil the staff in that way.
Ebony Fleming, another third grade teacher, said it made her feel valued to learn the administration team took part of their vacation time to create the room. She appreciated the small details they added, such as a phone charger docking station, a white noise machine, and the replenished snacks.
She and Innerbichler both appreciated having the room on the second floor, closer to their classrooms, but added it was nice to have downstairs employees they normally don’t see as much coming up to enjoy the room.
“I think it might help with bringing the whole building together instead of being so separated. I think we are going to see more of each other,” Fleming said.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.