Most of the walls at PS/MS 146 in Howard Beach, Queens, are light yellow, pale blue or white. But room 314B is completely different. Its four walls are painted black, with bright blue, yellow, purple, pink and orange flowers surrounded by small white circles and stars.
The furniture and décor are also a stark departure from the traditional classroom filled with desks and chairs. Fluffy rugs, liquid sensory tile mats, beanbags, soft pillows, foam cubes and even a one-person reading tepee greet visitors.
Welcome to the new retreat room at PS/MS 146, where administrators gave drama teacher Andrea Joseph and art teacher Justine Futerman artistic license to create a comfortable safe space, alternative learning environment, relaxation and de-escalation area, and club room for students in the pre-K–grade 8 school.
“We just wanted to make it different. We wanted to make it way different,” said Joseph, who is in her ninth year of teaching at PS/MS 146.
The room, which opened in May after months of planning, painting and set up, is divided into four sections. One is a “soft” area with a cushy area rug, pillows and beanbag chairs. Another is a sensory section that has several rows of squishy tiles filled with red, green, orange, blue and purple liquid that kids use for games like Twister. Students voted on the color scheme, rugs and furniture.
“It’s the type of space that the little kids will go in and love it, but it also has really cool elements that will excite the older kids as well,” said Futerman, who has taught at the school for 22 years. “So, it really has mass appeal.”
The students and the staff love the retreat room, said UFT Chapter Leader Eileen Perini, a physical education teacher. “Everyone who comes in is like, ‘Oh, this is so calming, so relaxing,’ ” she said.
The former physical and occupational therapy classroom has been used for literacy circles, lunch club, yoga and afterschool clubs, as well as a relaxation or de-escalation room for children when needed. Teachers and service providers can sign up to use the room.
“With COVID and the stress the students have been under, mental health really has to be kind of a focus,” Futerman said.
The art teachers are pleased with how it turned out. “I was super excited about it,” Joseph said. “I have three kids that go to this school. Anything that’s kid-centered and gives the kids a fun time at school, I’m totally for.”