Toni McDougald will head to college with a very practical set of skills.
McDougald, a senior at Cherry Creek High School, will start at Texas Tech University in Lubbock in the fall. She accepted the school's scholarship offer to play volleyball, and she plans to pursue a degree in communications. While her time at CCHS has helped her prepare to enter her chosen fields of expertise, a class from the second semester of her senior year has offered an entirely unrelated set of talents.
"This has been very helpful," McDougald said as she held a paintbrush stood in front of a small structure set up in a parking lot on the Cherry Creek High School campus. McDougald was prepping to start painting the trim of the 144-square-foot wooden booth, propped on rubber wheels dubbed the "Tiny House." "I've done most of the painting – the base and a lot of the detail. We've done some drilling and cutting wood. We're happy to do it."
McDougald is one of more than 100 CCHS students who have contributed to the construction of the Tiny House through Jeff Boyce's Environmental Science class. Boyce has worked with staff from the Cherry Creek School District's Career and Technical Education Department, as well as a host of community partners, to turn the small wooden structure into a valuable educational experience. Boyce explained that the students' collective work on the Tiny House has imparted a host of valuable and viable real-world skills.
"There are theoretical concepts that we can discuss in class, and then we can apply those theories when we come out here."
CCHS Environmental Science Teacher Jeff Boyce
"We're providing these kids an opportunity to learn how to use everyday tools," Boyce said. "We talk about ladder safety, we talk about how a drill works. From that end of the spectrum, we go all the way to installing solar panels and running electricity."
The project has been years in the making. Three years ago, the physical foundation for the Tiny House went up as a simple trailer purchased by the school's PTCO. That project that eventually ended up stalling, and the structure fell into disrepair.
It was the dedication of a range of partners that brought project back to life. Last year, Boyce worked with the CTE Department, as well as community partners such as the Colorado Construction Institute, to get it back on its feet. CCI, a nonprofit training organization, is dedicated to providing students and adults alike with opportunities to learn viable and practical skills.
The Tiny House project aligned with that mission perfectly.
"We worked together with the Institute and with students to deconstruct the original structure," said Daniel Draper, coordinator for the CTE Career Connections program. "The Colorado Construction Institute took away the frame and brought it back to us in early March. Since then, we've had build days where students have worked alongside local home builders."
Draper added that CCI's initial interest was an important lynchpin in the success of the program.
"Really, this project, in its current, functional state, would not have happened, and the tiny house would likely still be sitting in disrepair in the parking lot had CCI not agreed to get involved when I reached out to them," Draper said. "Their work and mission nicely complemented the work Jeff was attempting to do in his Environmental Science class," he added, explaining also that his own work through the CTE Department's career exploration initiatives made the project possible.
CCI weren't the only partners to contribute. Community involvement was a key to the revival of the project, Draper added. In addition to the contributions from CCI, local organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Epic Homes have contributed to the effort, as well as Principal Ryan Silva, the school's PTCO and parents and community members with ties to the construction industry. EcoTech Institute in Aurora has also worked closely on the project, contributing solar panels and the solar-thermal system to help power the small structure.
It's all made for an immersive, tactile lesson in the fine points of construction, Boyce said.
"There are theoretical concepts that we can discuss in class, and then we can apply those theories when we come out here," Boyce said. "When we talk about insulation and the conduction of heat, when we talk about what allows for the conduction of energy, we can come out here and we can look at the insulation in the walls and we can measure heat gain and heat loss.
"It allows my lectures in class to be applicable in the real world," he added.
The dedication of Boyce, his students and the larger community shows in the rapid progress of the structure. The exterior is nearly completely painted, and the class is working diligently on adding solar panel power sources and furnishing the interior.
The end result would be a versatile structure that could serve as a mobile classroom, or a practical food truck for district events. Whatever the final fate of the Tiny House, Boyce says its development has provided valuable lessons for students of all interests. Whether it's a student like McDougald, who's heading to college to study communications and play sports, or a student whose future career may be in construction, the construction process has yielded important lessons.
"I want this Tiny House to be usable on campus for as many people as possible," Boyce said. "I've talked to chemistry teachers, I've talked to physics teachers, I've talked to physical science teachers – my intention is that it will be a usable classroom to collect data and understand some of those principles that we've talked about."