It’s taken the entire school year, and a few delays and learning experiences along the way, but students at Western Albemarle High School have constructed a fully functioning tiny house in their shop class.
It’s the first time students in Kevin Matheny’s class have attempted, let alone completed, a tiny house. The hands-on, real-world learning experience came amid the nationwide tiny house trend.
“Building a house — huge monumental feat at 17,” said Hana Lagana, a junior at Western Albemarle. “If you had asked me a year ago if I would be doing this? I don’t think so.”
Matheny said he had been watching TV shows about tiny houses for few years and thought it would be a cool project for his students.
“I’m glad we didn’t think about it too much and we just jumped in, because it would have been hard to do if you thought about it a whole lot, because it’s a lot,” he said.
“It’s been pretty impressive for them to start with this type of project at pretty much no skill level,” said Matheny, who already plans to do the project again next year. “I mean they know how to use the tools, but the process is totally different from what we do in there. I’m pretty happy.”
The tiny house is roughly 280 square feet, with a 4-foot by 8-foot bathroom and a lofted bedroom area that can fit a queen-sized bed. The house has a refrigerator, stove, microwave oven and a heating and air conditioning unit.
With no indication of what they might encounter along the way, the students — and their teacher — found the project to be a learning opportunity.
“We actually started this project on the first day of school by making a layout with masking tape on the ground inside the classroom — and it’s still there,” said senior Catherine Adams.
The house was built on a trailer, so it can be moved to wherever its future owner wants to take it.
It took the class some time to secure the trailer, so the construction portion of the project started nine weeks into the school year, Matheny said.
“It’s pretty neat to see,” senior Connor Dillard said. “I have to say, I was a little bit skeptical on whether we’d get done or not, and we’ve definitely made it a lot further than I expected.”
The project was funded in part by a pair of $3,000 grants from the Associated General Contractors of Virginia’s Piedmont District and the AGCVA’s Virginia Construction Industry Educational Foundation. Both grant applications were written by the students.
The students held fundraisers to buy supplies and sought out donations of some larger items, as well as help with technical skills, such as the metal roofing and plumbing.
For students, it was a chance to apply the skills they’ve learned to a real-life project.
“We’re third- and fourth-year shop students, and so we just kind of wanted to put all of the skills we’ve learned from our first two years into a big project where we could learn more about applying it to real-world situations, like building a livable tiny house,” Adams said.
For some, it was about becoming more professional when they needed to communicate with companies as they sought donations of materials and expertise.
“It is preparing the kids for college and the workforce in both ways, because they’re having to deal with adults in the real world,” Matheny said.
Some of the students will be in the class again next year, and they plan to take what they’ve learned this year and apply it to next year’s tiny house. The money they make from the sale of this house will go toward supplies for next year’s house, Matheny said.
For some of the students, it’s still a strange feeling to think that a school project is going to be someone’s home.
“We built this with our hands and someone can actually live in it,” Lagana said. “This isn’t like, ‘oh, that playhouse your parents built you when you were 5 and you played in,’ and then you went to bed in your own house. This is a real house that people live in, and it functions as a real house.”
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