Wednesday, May 29, 2013


As some of you may know, my husband works for KIPP Austin.  KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program, is a national network of free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory public charter schools with a track record of preparing students in under-served communities for success in college and in life. That is the official definition. My definition, as the spouse of someone who works for KIPP: A really kick-ass charter school that gets struggling kids on track for college, mostly by demanding total commitment from parents, adherence to core values, and an INSANE amount of extra work from the teachers and their own families.

Students K-2, at KIPP Austin Comunidad, where my husband works, are in school from approx 7:30 until 4:30. Needless to say, this means teachers often work 12-14 hours every day and regularly on the weekends, just to keep up with regular classroom management. They have a family school day one Saturday a quarter and an extended school year. The staff must show incredible dedication for this kind of school to be successful and they are. Okay, I know what you're thinking.. this post says lounge makeover, Rachel...get to it. 

My point is that besides dedicated students, you cannot imagine how hard these teachers work. Often times teachers have FIVE minutes to escape to the lav for a little kid-free peace and quiet. Unfortunately this is what they have been escaping to for three years:

White, stark, institutional, BLINDING fluorescent with zero amenities. Not very inviting.  When I was in grade school, I always pictured the teacher's lounge more like Don Draper's office with vending snacks. Big cozy couches, soda machines, fancy coffee and a haze of secret teacher ciggy smoke. Nope-this is it: toilet, mirror sink. Boo.'s co-ed. EWWwwww. 

As part of teacher appreciation week, I volunteered my services to redo the staff bathroom at my husband's school on a teeny tiny budget provided by management.  I spent one Saturday afternoon (and one more installing it), running around Austin, pillaging thrift stores, raiding home depot, and unpacking and sniffing every diffuser in Marshall's for some solutions to this hideous space. I wanted to attack all the important senses, with solutions for lighting, scent, storage for personals, and a place to sit. I wanted it to be ultra-Zen...a little escape from the insanity of squirelly grade-schoolers and harried deadlines, but also functional as it serves as a space for staff to change after work on the way to the gym or otherwise (Happy Hour).  

My budget covered little more than paint and supplies so I had to get REAL creative. These projects are always more work because of the DIY nature of the budget, but still, beautiful interiors CAN be achieved on a shoestring. Sure I could have skipped all the yummy extras and just painted and hung up an Ikea picture, but I don't like to do things less than awesome. Seeing how this was a surprise to the staff, I wanted it to be cohesive, complete, and wonderful. And despite it being a silly little pro-bono project, I actually put a lot of thought into the design solutions for the space. (Thank you, University of Minnesota)

Some finds:

You'll have to forgive the weird colors from my lame camera... This paint is actually a mauvy, earthy, brown. It was hard to capture in this windowless space and fluorescent lighting. You can see it better in later photos. 

Obviously, without using lots of my own supplies and hardware (drill, nails, staples, fabric, string, etc..) I couldn't have stayed within budget, but it was worth it. I even got a little carried away and stocked the console ($20!) with dollar store breath mints, tissues, light bulbs, and hand lotion.

It was well worth it. I was inundated with thank you cards, emails and messages to my husband that it was ultra-appreciated and such a surprise. This is now known as the "fancy bathroom" by the staff. I hope it will continue to give our hard-working teachers a few minutes of respite so they can face the students with a fresh face and renewed spirit. There is nothing more important than this.

If you'd like to know more about schools like KIPP, check out the documentary Waiting for Superman. It is a brilliant piece on the importance of progressive schools and how families are affected. 

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