January 25, 2019

High school homebuilding class constructs tiny homes for a big cause

On top of the STEM skills they learn, the students at Tippecanoe High School in Ohio also receive a lesson in service.

Students in Tippecanoe High School's Homebuilding class build a tiny house each semester. Photos courtesy of Homebuilding teacher Jim Kitchen

Before the school year began in 2016, my students and I didn’t know what to expect from the new Homebuilding class. For me, it was an opportunity to do something different. It was a chance to reinforce the skills I thought would be helpful for anyone learning in today’s educational environment. For some of the students, it wasn’t just another elective. It was an opportunity to work with their hands.

For nearly 20 years, I had taught just about every art class offered in most schools. Homebuilding was not one of them. When I saw the job description, I thought to myself, that’s different. To this day people look at me strangely when I tell them I teach homebuilding.

I started working with my hands at a young age and it continued throughout my studies in grade school and beyond. The youngest of five brothers, I took on the role as “maintenance man” at an early age for our family’s grocery store, working extensively around the store, inside and out. Often my dad wouldn’t give us a blueprint or clear idea of how something should be done or fixed, so we just had to figure it out by researching it or through trial and error.

Fast forward to 2016 and those problem-solving and research skills would become the focus of Tippecanoe High School’s Homebuilding classes. I knew I wanted to teach the students skills that went beyond just being able to hammer nails or cut pieces of two-by-fours. The problem was that we didn’t have the resources at the time to do much else. The idea of generating some type of funding or support seemed paramount to being able to offer the students an experience they could take with them the rest of their lives. Designing, building, and selling a tiny house on wheels seemed like the ideal project to do that.

The Homebuilding class is one of the most popular at Tippecanoe says Kitchen.

I reached out to a number of local businesses and organizations and most of them responded with the utmost support for what we were doing. We even secured a few local grants. The greater Tipp City school community also has been supportive. I imagine there aren’t many school districts out there that would support the program like ours has.

Building a tiny house is the perfect hands-on project for our students. Even though the county has a career and technology center, I believe many of the parents in the community like that their kids get this opportunity in their own backyard. It’s a chance for their kids to learn many of the science, technology, engineering, and math skills, or STEM, being championed across the country.

A STEM curriculum does more than sharpen science and math skills. It also helps students use their creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration skills. Designing and building our tiny houses promotes all of those and then some. When someone doesn’t design, measure, or cut accurately, it throws everything off and the students have to figure out together how to solve the “new” problems that have been created.

This year, we added a new element to the program—giving back to the greater good. Through one of our partners, we were able to connect with Veteran’s Ananda Inc., a nonprofit that uses traditional and non-traditional treatments and therapies to support U.S. armed service members, veterans, and first responders. Students in the Homebuilding classes are leading the design and production of micro houses to be donated to this organization.

The new partnership gives another focus that students must consider when designing and constructing the houses. One of the houses this year is going to be ADA compliant so those with disabilities may be able to take part in Veteran’s Ananda’s programs. We are still looking for support so that we can continue building these micro houses. A number of businesses have helped us, but we are in need of more materials. We’ve got the people to design and build them; we just need more resources.

There has been no shortage of students since our first year. Three years ago we had 41 students, the next 191, and this year it was limited to just over 160 students so we could maintain a safe and manageable classroom environment. The number of girls taking the classes has risen steadily over the last few years as well. This class offers something for everyone and the skills are universal.

For more information about the Homebuilding program at Tippecanoe High School please go to Tipptinyhouse.weebly.com.

Read more about Veteran’s Ananda Inc.

Jim Kitchen

Tippecanoe High School

Jim Kitchen holds a B.S. in Art Education from Bowling Green State University in Ohio and a MEd in Administration from Lamar University in Texas. He began his teaching career in 1997, teaching art and coaching football at a middle school in Ohio. A few years later he moved to Texas and continued teaching art at the high school level. In 2014 he and his family returned to Ohio where he continues to teach students at the high school level in the Homebuilding classes at Tippecanoe High School in Tipp City, Ohio. Jim enjoys being a coach for his son’s 10U baseball team. He also founded and serves as the president of the 501(c)3 nonprofit the National School Art Collective (NSAC), whose mission is to support the development of student-curated and student-owned professional art collections in schools nationwide. The NSAC is helping Tippecanoe High School establish their own art collection this year.
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