Fairfax County teacher renovates treehouse for virtual classroom

Nellie Williams, a sixth grade teacher with Fairfax County Public Schools, stands in front of her tree house from where she teaches.

The Haycock Elementary School teacher said the interior was completely unfinished, so they insulated the inside, installed a new floorboard and porch and added stairs to replace the original a rope ladder, which had since rotted.

Williams said she and her husband worked on the tree house all summer to get it ready.

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When sixth-grade Fairfax County, Virginia, teacher Nellie Williams realized virtual learning would continue at the start of the school year, she knew she needed to change her environment. Her two teenage daughters’ old treehouse in the backyard of her home looked like it could be the perfect spot.

Williams said her daughters’ old playhouse hadn’t been used in a couple of years — her daughters are now 16 and 19, and they’ve outgrown the outdoor wooden structure.

Many things needed to be done before it could be used as her classroom.

“My husband and I spent about seven weeks renovating it in the summer — in sweltering-90 degree heat,” Williams said.

The Haycock Elementary School teacher said the interior was completely unfinished, so they insulated the inside, installed a new floorboard and porch and added stairs to replace the original a rope ladder, which had since rotted.

The advanced academics teacher said “a lot of math was involved” to remodel the space, but she enjoys the peace and calm of the unconventional classroom.

And she said the cozy treehouse has been a fun way to connect to her students.

“They are really excited to have a teacher that is teaching from a treehouse,” Williams said.

The treehouse also provides Williams a place where she can stay focused on her work.

“When we started teaching remotely, I decided I needed my own space,” she said. “My husband and my daughters and my dogs and my cat — we’re all here, and I was just getting too distracted.”

Williams said she didn’t know how long virtual learning would last, but she knew that the treehouse needed to be her spot. She even keeps up with a daily routine.

“I make my way to the treehouse at about 8 a.m. every day, make my way back to the house to walk across my yard for lunch, and I walk back to the treehouse for the rest of the day until about 5 or 6 p.m. when I’m done,” she said.

Williams said she’s not usually handy, but working on the project with her husband gave her an opportunity to step outside of her comfort zone. It also gave her an opportunity to teach her class about do-it-yourself projects.

“I’ve shown pictures to them about the whole process, and I just explained all the work that goes into it.”

She said it’s important to get “creative about the space you are in now” because “creating a space that’s your own” helps you concentrate, “and it’s fun too.”

WTOP’s Dick Uliano contributed to this report.

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