Even though they haven’t yet started their teaching careers, the Aspiring Educators of MEA understand the importance of a nice staff lounge in bringing school employees together and combatting classroom isolation.
Future educators from AEM chapters at Ferris and Michigan State Universities spruced up dreary spaces to create comfortable and functional break rooms for employees of schools in the McBain and Lansing school districts.
“This is the teacher’s lounge I want to have when I’m a teacher,” said Melissa Birchmeier, a secondary education student at FSU majoring in biology and Spanish. “To be able to form that space for those teachers felt amazing.”
Teachers at McBain Rural and Agricultural School, which houses K-12 students in different sections of the building, did not have a staff lounge since an old one flooded 10 years ago. The FSU students rehabbed an unused classroom for the role.
The new lounge features a custom-made counter top, conference table and chairs, two couches, and shelving in a closet.
“It was just amazing to see the transformation of the room,” Birchmeier said. “On the last day, we were all going to leave, and we turned the lights off and just kind of stood there and said, ‘Wow.’”
It was the FSU chapter’s first solo Outreach to Teach project, requiring three weekends of labor to complete. The group became interested in organizing a service project after participating in a statewide effort last year to help students collect bottle caps to turn into a school bench.
Meanwhile at MSU, nearly 40 aspiring educators continued a tradition of spring service in a multi-pronged Outreach to Teach project at Gardner International Magnet School in Lansing. One part of the group’s work involved revamping two staff break rooms, which were in bad shape.
“Every educator needs a space where they can go to talk and unwind in the middle of the day for lunch,” said Brittany Perreault, a sophomore at MSU who plans to become a special education teacher.
Other parts of the MSU project included a “winter wishlist” in which teachers nominated 17 students in need of winter clothing to receive a new coat, hat, gloves, socks, a book, and a dental kit from a local dentist office.
The future educators also donated classroom supplies to all teachers, provided a new refrigerator in one lounge, cleaned the library and created a reading nook for students, and painted a hallway mural featuring the global goals that the school hopes to incorporate into their curriculum.
“It’s so important as an aspiring educator to support those who are already out in the profession who struggle every day to make a difference in their students’ lives,” Perreault said. “There’s nothing better than supporting students and supporting educators.”
Perreault and others spent 15 hours a week or more working on the projects since January. “A lot of time and energy goes into this, and we couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.”