Tiny house holds big dreams for Coos Bay students
Marshfield High School junior Austin Dozier says his career and technical education class that is building a tiny house helps him stay committed to school and he is learning life skills in addition to carpentry and construction. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
A wealth of career and technical education benefits live under the one small roof of Marshfield High School’s tiny house project.
Coos Bay School District used Measure 98 money to plant a program seed, buying a tiny house trailer and building materials for its construction classes last school year. The house is nearly complete, and the district plans to sell it and use the fruits to make the program self-sustaining.
The 2019 Student Success Act fully funded Measure 98 for the first time, increasing it nearly 80% to $303 million. High School Graduation and College and Career Readiness Fund money must be used to establish or expand programs in some combination of three areas: dropout prevention, college opportunities and career and technical education.
The tiny house ticks all those boxes. Students are learning valuable skills for entry into trades or college programs. Students and teachers also say the class gives students who might drop out a reason to come to school every day.
“This is what they are good at,” said construction teacher Jesse Ainsworth. “When they walk in these walls, they feel special.”
The tiny house movement has inspired building programs in schools around the country. Several Oregon schools have built tiny houses with grants, but the Oregon Department of Education is aware of only two tiny house programs using Measure 98 funds.
Child’s Way Charter School is building a tiny house in its gym that it started with Measure 98 funds. Administrator Michael Kerns said it made for a right-sized project for his grade 5-12 school of fewer than 50 on-site students. The school south of Eugene sponsored by the South Lane School District emphasizes hands-on learning.
Some Oregon school programs build full houses, but Marshfield High School Principal Travis Howard said high area property values make building a house too big of a financial investment.
The tiny house is the latest wrinkle in Marshfield’s popular construction program. The school’s driving goal is to get students into industry internships, “13th year” as Ainsworth calls it. The students learn real-world skills through community and district projects, ranging from building furniture and cabinets to outbuildings and sports structures. The class frames houses for Habitat for Humanity and years ago even built the current class building.
The tiny house, though, offers learning benefits the other projects can’t. For starters, students can work right on school property. They don’t lose class time loading up tools and students to bus to different worksites and back. Parts of the project could be done inside the covered shop during Coos Bay’s rainy season.
The project also condenses a host of curriculum subjects into one manageable and visible project. Ainsworth said the tiny house is the right size for giving students a skills lesson and then moving on to the next thing before they become bored.
Junior Thomas Johns said important lessons he learned included little tricks to hide mistakes because a builder can’t just throw a house away and start over. For instance, trim was added in places to cover up some miscalculated cuts in the siding. Johns said he didn’t know anything about putting up siding before.
Junior Keanon Walton liked the tiny house team effort. He said it felt different. They had to focus more because they were using expensive materials and mistakes would cut into profit. He also said it felt good to know they were doing something to benefit the school.
Howard said watching a tangible product grow on the school grounds motivated younger students to get to the advanced classes so they could take part too.
Starting in spring 2019, students have researched and built the house piece by piece. The boxy house on a 10-foot-by-18-foot trailer has poked out of a covered area in front of the school’s construction and carpentry building for much of this school year. It has one room with a kitchen and a sleeping loft.
Students will do every part of the home building except the plumbing and electrical work, which require licensed professionals. The project has had to sit while waiting on district staff or community volunteers to install the pipes and wires.
Total investment, including the trailer and district staff time, will be about $20,000, according to Superintendent Bryan Trendell. He said the district is still trying to figure out the best way to sell it but there is local interest. He expected the district to sell it for nearly double its cost. The district plans to use the money to buy the materials for another tiny house as long as they remain popular.
Yamhill Carlton High School students finished a tiny house using grant money earlier this school year. Manufacturing teacher Trevor DaSilva said he couldn’t stand just making bird houses and cutting boards and he wanted to teach skills students needed to get a job. He said it was a great experience but the school west of Portland has struggled to sell its house.
Most of the advanced construction students in Coos Bay working on the house have a family member in one of the trades, and most have already done construction for pay. But they say the class gives them a chance to learn about tools and skills they don’t use framing or roofing all summer.
Some of the students struggle in other classes with behavior and grades, but they are passionate about building things. Howard said some students will do anything the school asks of them so they can be part of the program.
“That’s kind of their lifeline,” he said. “That’s their future.”
Junior Austin Dozier admits he has had some behavior issues, but for “Boss,” as Ainsworth is called by the students, Dozier talks proudly of the “social context” skills he has learned as the class bids on jobs with the public.
Construction class is what keeps him coming back to school, he said.
“I excel in this class,” he said.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA
Marshfield High School is using a tiny house project to teach advanced construction skills. The district hopes to sell the home to buy another tiny house kit and continue the program. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)