Teachers at Walker Upper Elementary School had a surprise waiting for them when they returned to work Tuesday.
A team of parents had worked over the holiday weekend to turn the staff break room into a more relaxing space — moving noisy vending machines to a nearby workroom, installing kitchen cabinets and brightening the space with a fresh coat of paint.
“The lounge was in a sorry state,” said Jamie Leonard, a Walker parent and member of the school’s parent-teacher organization that organized the project. “We wanted to create an actual break room.”
The newly-formed Walker-Buford United PTO started planning for the renovations in the fall, when Principal Adam Hastings and school counselor John Kronstain brought the idea to them.
Taking on the lounge and workroom was the PTO’s first big project.
“A lounge is something every job needs,” said Louisa Candelario, PTO vice president.
More than 20 parents helped with the project during the four-day weekend. Community members donated money and supplies to make it possible.
Andy Orban, a PTO member and architect, helped come up with the plan for the renovations.
Leonard said the PTO added cabinets so staff members had a place to store materials as well as a countertop to place food and other items. One parent, who is a woodworker, refinished the table that was in the break room. Additionally, parents brought in a new couch and two comfy chairs.
Hastings said that before, the staff work spaces looked more like a storage room and used broken or extra furniture to fill the space — they weren’t inviting spaces to relax.
“We had a teacher break room and workroom, but neither was that,” he said.
Walker currently serves fifth- and sixth-graders; however, Charlottesville school division officials are seeking to centralize preschool at Walker move those grades elsewhere. If funded, the project could be done by the 2023-24 school year, at the earliest.
The decision to spruce up both spaces came after the school embraced Zones of Regulations, a curriculum for social and emotional learning that gives students a way to talk about and understand their emotions, as well as the tools to manage themselves.
In the Zones of Regulation framework, people can be in the blue, green, yellow or red zone. Green is the goal, meaning that the individual is ready to work, happy and speaking calmly.
A key part of the framework is giving students a space where they can get back to the green zone.
“We realized we all these great Take A Break spaces for students, but didn’t have one for teachers,” Hastings said. “Not having a space for teachers to decompress has been an issue.”
In the two days since teachers have had the new break room, Hastings said he’s noticed a change. Teachers are happy about it, and the room is helping to build community among the staff.
Leonard said Walker staff members work really hard. She hoped the refreshed break room and workroom would show them that they are appreciated.
“Walker, in particular, is a big transition for students,” she said. “Days are really long. “Now teachers can come in, heat up their lunch and catch a break … I hope it lasts for years.”