Before the cavalry arrived, teachers at Stults Road Elementary rarely spent time in their teachers’ lounge, with its chipped paint, stained carpet and broken chairs. Stults, one of LH’s Title 1 schools, has a large percentage of underprivileged kids from low income families and no parent-sponsored PTA. While other lounges in the district boast bistro tables, plush couches and fancy coffee machines, the lounge at Stults hadn’t been updated since the school was built in the 1970s.
The room is large and bright with sunny windows, though, and it’s such a great space that faculty use it for band practice, community ESL (English as a Second Language) classes and after school events. A few months ago, counselor Regina McCurdy posted a plea for items to spruce up the lounge on the Lake Highlands Online Garage Sale Facebook page. When Angela Ponce saw it, she brought the request to her real estate partners, Melanie Martin and Renee Barfoot, at Martin Barfoot Real Estate, and a project was born.
“As a former RISD teacher, I know how important it is to have a place to relax and escape,” explained Barfoot. “When I taught at RISD Academy, we didn’t have a PTA, and I never realized how impactful the PTA can be until I got to Lake Highlands Elementary, where the PTA was amazing. We did everything for our kids at the Academy, from planning holiday parties to planning and executing fall festivals, to doing our own fundraising, to providing clean clothes. I know these teachers at Stults are doing the same to care for their students. They work so hard doing lots of tasks that aren’t even in their job description, and we just thought that the least we could do was to help create a space at the school where they could find some respite. And we wanted them to know how much our community appreciates them for their incredible dedication to their students.”
Barfoot’s plans to help were derailed a bit when her family’s home burned down in August, but the team was joined by designers Jeanne-Marie Gisellu of whiteSTAGED and Andrea Speer and Tiffany Marx of Altered Interiors, who took up the cause. They also received help from Lowe’s, which donated construction materials and decorations.
Renovations were made over the Christmas break, and teachers were shocked at “the big reveal” Tuesday morning just before classes resumed.
“It shows the community cares,” said Tommy McCrory, who teaches 5th grade science and social studies and attended Wallace Elementary as a child. “Growing up in Lake Highlands, it’s easy to see that some schools are more cared for than others. To see a school like Stults, which has so many great kids, have people come alongside and support us is really something special. It feels good to have people say, ‘we want you to be the best [teachers] you can be to pour into the kids of our community.’”
“We wanted to do more than just update the space,” said Speer. “We wanted to give them a place where they can rest, relax and gather their thoughts in the midst of a hectic day. You typically can’t do that in a cluttered, mismatched environment.”
“It turned out ten times better than anything I pictured in my head,” said Ponce on reveal day. “It made me cry to see the teachers come in and see it for the first time – all the oohs and ahhs and wows. They want to come in here and use the space and eat lunch here and spend time on their breaks. It’s a sweet little school – we should take care of them all.”
If you’d like to contribute to the Stults Road Teachers’ Lounge Project, it’s not too late. You may donate here to help purchase remaining items.