Cool Schools: Career Academy students build tiny house

Cool Schools: Career Academy students build tiny house


A project to build a tiny house is making a not-so-tiny impact for students at Career Academy in South Bend. High School students started the project at the beginning of the year, and plan to finish by the time school lets out for the summer.

"Ms. Solberg came and she told us we were going to build a tiny house and I was like ‘Now this, this is it,’” said Charity Vaughn a junior in the building and trades class.

Lea Ann Solberg is a counselor at Career Academy, but because she has some background in construction, she’s the one teaching the class for now.

"We couldn't go out and build a house like a building and trades class usually would, but we thought with the shipping container tiny house, we could still have all the experience of building a house with the wiring, plumbing and framing and all that," said Solberg.

The idea came from the superintendent Alex Hammel, who says recent peaked interest in tiny houses helped to spark the idea.

"A lot of what we're trying to do is prepare kids for high-demand, high-wage jobs in our regions,” said Hammel.

And he says this tiny house project is already doing that.

"We've already got businesses that are talking to us about if these kids are interested in RV or manufacturing,” said Hammel.

Some students in the class feel the project is giving them a head start.

"When I grow up I want to be an architecture engineering manager, so it's nice to have this in my bag and actually have knowledge of certain things,” said Vaughn.

She took a leadership role in designing the table and chairs for the house. Both the table and chairs have wheels so they can be moved around, and they also have built in storage space.

But the project isn't just helping the students who want to pursue a career like that.

"If they're going into construction or not, just to be able to do the general things and save yourself money around the house," said Solberg.

Which is exactly what Ryan Milon says he wants to get out of the class.

"I wanted to be able to learn things like how to fix a kitchen sink or things around the house," said Milon, a junior at Career Academy.

The tiny house is made from a storage unit. Because that means it all has to fit into the dimensions of the unit, Solberg says the project has come with some challenges.

"You can't frame the way you would normally frame,” said Solberg. “If you would you would use too much space in the trailer. But that's a good learning experience because everything you do that doesn't work is learning something."

It’s a wrap-around lesson in construction. The house will be framed, wired and furnished. It also will include a shower and flushable toilet.

"Overall it's pretty nice,” said Vaughn. “Just allowing us kids to learn something different and teaching us what we would experience in the real world."

The end location for this tiny house isn't set just yet, but the school says it's considering putting it in the community.

"Ultimately we'd like to sell this and try to create a program that's sustainable and so it's something that you know we can sell this tiny house which funds the materials for the next one," said Hammel.

He says with this project he’s seen more engagement from students, and he plans to continue the project next year.

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