Tiny house, big skills: Westfield Prep students learn construction trades through hands-on experience

Buddy Moorehouse
Apr 2, 2024 10:13:06 AM

When it comes to valuable career skills for a young person, you can’t do much better than home construction. Learning to hang drywall, do plumbing and electrical, learning to frame a house, etc., are not only practical skills; they’re also skills that will almost guarantee a person employment in today’s economy.

A new program at Westfield Preparatory High School, a grades 7-12 charter school in Redford, is giving students a huge head start in this area. The students are building a tiny house from the ground up, and in doing so, they’re gaining some big skills.

Antonio Powell, a professional in the construction industry and the owner of Maniac Mechanics, runs the program, which is funded by a state grant that Westfield Prep received.

“What we do is we take the children for four weeks, three days a week, three hours a day, and we teach them fundamental plumbing, electrical, drywall installation, tile work and framing. We install all of that within that four weeks and create either a bathroom or a kitchen, and we're also about to work on a tiny home that will be located on the outside of this school,” Powell said.

The program is open to students in grades 7-12, with the older students doing the most advanced work. Working in teams, the students build segments of a house that are each four-by-four feet. Some of the segments are for practice, while some of them will actually be used in the school’s tiny house.

“We’ll use some of these segments and actually just join them and have some of the most advanced students do the remainder of the projects like the roof. We'll do like a gable-style roof and just kind of join them in. Essentially, we were just doing individual rooms, but we wanted to scale it out and do some actual tiny homes for the kids to be able to go inside,” Powell said.

There are currently 28 students in the class, which operates as a four-week program. Westfield Prep Principal Aquan Grant-Wayne said the class has become extremely popular among students.

“We've literally had kids just walk past after school and say, can I please join?” she said.

Aquan said the program is funded by a 21(h) grant from the state, which is designed to help a school improve its math, literacy, and attendance. The home-building program primarily targets the attendance goal, and it’s been phenomenally successful.

“This was one of our goal areas for attendance because we know the students don't miss this class. They may miss anything else, but they're not missing this class,” Aquan said.

Powell said that some of the students have come to the program already knowing some construction skills, while others are learning from scratch.

“A few of the kids in the program have parents who are do-it-yourselfers and showed them how to do some of these things, and there are others who have never done anything before. This program kind of catapults them to becoming even more excited about it. And everything's functional. So for them to come in here, be able to turn the light switch on, and it works, turn the plumbing on, and it works, it's a joy for them because they can see something tangible that they've actually put together with their own hands,” Powell said.

In addition to learning practical construction skills, Powell said his students are gaining a lot of other skills along the way.

“My whole objective is to have them critically think about everything. I want them to use their thinking skills. I don’t tell them what to do. I just show them how to correctly do it, but it’s up to you to figure it out. I let them make their mistakes. We draw it all out before we do it on an actual bathroom or kitchen,” Powell said.

Westfield Prep’s tiny house should be completed by the end of the school year, and it’ll be 160-200 square feet when it’s all put together. Aquan said the tiny house will be located on the school grounds, giving future students a chance to see what it’s all about if they decide to join the course.

It also gives the current students a chance to see an actual home they built themselves.

“The fact that they have this ownership and something they're proud of is so good to see,” Aquan said.

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