Megan and Andrew Nelson gave away a classroom makeover to a 2020 UCF graduate.

Third-grade teacher Karlie Braddy at her new desk.

Third-grade teacher Karlie Braddy '20 at her new desk. (Photo by Megan Nelson)

The last thing Karlie Braddy ’20 expected when she joined UCF’s elementary education program was to graduate in the middle of a global pandemic. She certainly didn’t expect to begin her new teaching career as a third-grade teacher during a time when there was confusion as to whether classes would be in-person or not and everyone was wearing masks.

What she also didn’t anticipate?

Receiving the gift of a classroom makeover by two other UCF alumni.

Before: Karlie Braddy’s original classroom before fellow Knights came in and gave it a farmhouse makeover. Photo Credit: Megan Nelson

Karlie Braddy’s original classroom before fellow Knights came in and gave it a farmhouse makeover. (Photo by Megan Nelson)

After photo - Photo Credit: Megan Nelson

The front part of Karlie Braddy's newly renovated classroom. (Photo by Megan Nelson)

After photo - Photo Credit: Megan Nelson

A complete transformation of the space by the Nelsons. (Photo by Megan Nelson)

“Receiving this classroom makeover was a huge blessing,” says Braddy, who teaches third grade math and science at Winter Springs Elementary in Winter Springs, Florida. “Not only did this save me the stress of preparing my room, but it has also created a bright and welcoming space for my students to learn and grow. As a new teacher, all I wanted was to provide a place where my students feel safe and comfortable, and my room is exactly that. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Braddy was the recipient of a classroom makeover giveaway hosted by Lee-Anne Trimble Spalding ’94, ’98M.Ed., ’12Ed.D, an associate lecturer of elementary education who teaches the program’s capstone colloquium. Spalding has a graduation celebration for her capstone students every spring, which was extra special this year, as soon-to-be-graduates began their teaching career during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Spalding, a triple Knight herself, jokes that the end of spring semester celebration leaves her feeling like Oprah as she hands out gifts to all the teacher candidates. “If I had been given a classroom makeover to begin my career, it would have really started me off on the right foot,” says Spalding.

As it was, alumni Megan ’13 and Andrew ’14 Nelson blew Spalding’s expectations out of the water with their classroom makeover design. “We’re just so grateful for partners like the Nelsons who truly want to give back to our teacher candidates, who are really the future of teaching our students,” says Spalding.

Megan and Andrew Nelson are both graduates of UCF’s School of Teacher Education. Photo Credit: The Heims Photography

Megan and Andrew Nelson are both graduates of UCF’s School of Teacher Education. (Photo by Heims Photography)

The Nelsons are both graduated from the School of Teacher Education with the goal of becoming a teacher, although their audiences were quite different. Megan received a degree in elementary education and taught first and second grade for five and a half years before focusing on her classroom décor business full time. Andrew graduated with a degree in chemistry education and taught high school students for six years; he recently started seminary school.

Megan began Confetti and Creativity in 2017, after she began selling classroom resources and noticed how positively teachers were responding to her editable products and designs. Her slogan for the business is “Transforming your classroom to be a home away from home,” which is apt given how much time both teachers and their students spend in schools five of seven days a week.

“As we think about having our own kid, whenever you go meet the teacher for that first week as a parent, your mind goes at ease when you [see their classroom] and realize, ‘Oh, wow, if the teacher put this much work into the environment, they’re going to bust their tail for good lessons,’” says Andrew. “This isn’t a job where you clock out and leave. This is a life of devoting a year to these students and loving them well — and that really goes a long way.”

Creating a positive, welcoming classroom environment can be as simple as putting up students’ artwork on the walls for younger grades to decorating the classroom in an inviting way, which is what Megan specializes in. Drawing from her experiences as a teacher, she creates products and designs that other teachers (whether they’re just starting out, been on the job for 20 years or are having to teach their children during the COVID-19 pandemic) will customize and embrace.

“It’s research-based,” says Spalding. “A positive physical environment and the way that you set up your classroom does impact student performance and the way students feel about their education. Having that environment has a ripple effect. When Karlie [Braddy] feels good teaching in the space that she has been given and helped to create, she is then going to exude that enthusiasm to her students. It’s a win-win all around.”

When it came to giving back to their alma mater, Megan and Andrew had no hesitancies. While they were teaching at the Geneva School in Winter Park, they met a fellow teacher who also taught at UCF, who introduced them to Spalding.

“We have a really big heart for new teachers,” says Megan. “We know that it's really hard starting off. You have knowledge from your internship, but it's one thing to have the internship and another to actually be a teacher.”

Andrew echoes this sentiment. “I think there are future Megan and Andrew Nelsons going through UCF, so how can we give back to them?”

The couple plans to continue partnering with Spalding and the School of Teacher Education to offer a free classroom makeover to a future teacher, so that those students can begin their teaching career with a lighter load and a lighter heart (one free of the financial burdens and time commitment of decorating an entire classroom, which took the couple five days to do).

“Even though we're not teaching, we're still working with teachers and making an impact,” says Megan.