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Tiny homes, big dreams: local students build homes for those in need while building their own futures

There is a sense of pride at the completion of a project. This is especially true when that project stands to help others in the community, while also serving as a learning experience for those involved. Yesterday, that pride was evident among one group of area students, as they shared the results of their efforts throughout the school year — results that will see unhoused people locally given a place to call home as they get back on their feet.

On Monday, Jun. 27, 2022, at 45 County Road 6 in Amherstview, Limestone District School Board (LDSB) students in the Building Construction Internship Program (BCIP) hosted an open house celebrating the eight ‘tiny homes’ they have completed this year, marking their 100th house project.

Celebratory atmosphere: the students sang a military style cadence and clapped as they marched their sign to the road to welcome attendees to their open house on Monday, Jun. 27, 2022. The sign reads “Shaping the Future: Building Construction Internship Program.” Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

This year, students in the BCIP embarked on a project in partnership with Habitat for Humanity. Eight tiny homes were created for safe, healthy, and affordable housing in the Kingston area.

BCIP teacher Dan Fisher has been running the program for the last 10 years. Normally, the program builds one home for Habitat For Humanity each year, but Fisher said that the tiny homes they built this year were the idea of John Armitage, CEO of Brookland Fine Homes: “John had this great idea that the students could do tiny homes, and we really liked the idea of safe and healthy affordable housing that gives a hand up for people — the idea of transitional housing.”

Transitional housing gives unhoused individuals a place to feel safe and provides a home base so they can seek counselling, health care, and employment. Fisher said that the eight tiny homes will be part of a community to be built on land owned by the City of Kingston near the Boys and Girls Club in Kingston’s north end.

“The Tiny Homes built by students in the Building Construction Internship Program is for a Habitat for Humanity program and will be located on McAuley Street near the Rideau Heights Community Centre,” the LDSB expanded.

Students Kalan Mochula (left) and Braydon Gray (right) on the steps of one of their tiny homes. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

Fisher explained that the Building Construction Internship Program has been running for 30 years and that thousands of LDSB students have participated in the program, with alumni found on nearly every construction site in the Kingston area. Currently, their collective dedication and hard work have culminated in the completion of their 100th housing project. 

“John Armitage was actually there for the first house, too, when he worked for Dacon,” said Fisher. “So he’s seen the program, and one of the things he talks about is that more young people now are making construction a positive choice, rather than a fail-safe for not getting into university or college. All of our students come to us because those trades… are being recognized as a solution.”

Students take a number of math, English, and business courses along with construction, and Fisher pointed out that the BCIP is perfect for keeping students engaged cross-curricularly.

“We are engaging kids in their math and English and business courses by contextualizing it in construction. Everything is hands-on… It’s kind of cool what we do here because it’s like we’re never in the school… the bell doesn’t ring and then we pick up tools. We get those curricular expectations from these other courses when the project demands it,” said Fisher. “So, for instance, communications come into play even just making up the brochure for today…. or math when we have to [order] materials. That’s when it’s real organic, as opposed to chopped-up scheduling. And it seems to work – it engages kids.”

The students each completed a tech report culminating activity; combined together, all these reports tell the story of the build from start to finish.

Four students in the current class have already been hired to do framing for construction companies around the area, including Braydon Gray and Kalan Mochula, who led a tour of the tiny homes. 

Mochula said being part of the class was “very rewarding,” especially knowing that they were making a big difference in the life of someone who needed a home. Also, he said, “We’ve learned a lot. We’re all getting jobs in this trade, and with all the knowledge we’ve learned here, plus certifications that we’ve gotten for free just by taking the course, that’s great.”

Gray said he will also be doing some framing for the summer and then returning in the fall to finish up the tiny home project. He hopes to become an electrician after high school.

The home they showed off had a kitchen/living space, bedroom, and bathroom with a shower. The students installed the electricity, including pot lights throughout. Pocket doors separate the rooms and slide into the walls for more space. 

The BCIP’s influence is felt beyond the communities served by the LDSB and helps to shape secondary programming in Ontario. The province’s Specialist High Skills Major program is modelled on the BCIP’s cross-curricular, project-based learning. In a press release, the Limestone District School Board shared that they are, understandably, very proud of the impact the Building Construction Internship Program has had locally and beyond.

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