If youâve ever wondered what 27 high school girls can do with access to power tools, the answer is something bigger than a birdhouse.
The teenagers, all the students in an Engineering for Social Good class at Concordâs Carondelet High School learned to build houses-and then they made one themselves. Not just a house. A small house, designed and built for migrant farm workers, who often have difficulty finding adequate housing.
The house is being built on top of a trailer in the school parking lot. When it is completed next year, it will be donated to Hijas del Campo, a grassroots organization of Contra Costa County that aims to help migrants and seasonal farm workers improve their quality of life and sense of safety during a pandemic. and more. The owners of Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood donated a site for the home to rest.
The class, taught by Chris Walsh, director of the schoolâs Center for Innovation, and math teacher Kristina Levesque, is the first hands-on industrial arts class taught at the all-girls Catholic high school. So, Walsh says, he wants to start big – and big means to start small, in the small house.
“I want a major project that the school is really proud of,” Walsh said, “and that students can take over and run along with. It’s that, but it’s not the end, it’s a beginning. I want to work. more houses, perhaps make robotic arms. “
The project is more complex than teaching teens how to use table saws and drills. Students first had to learn the basics of home building, as well as figure out exactly what those living in the cottage would need and what was more available.
They interviewed people working with migrant farm workers and found that residential areas were often shared by non-relatives. That means even a small house needs privacy areas. Farm work can be dirty, so the house needs to have good plumbing and a washing machine.
There are building codes to learn, as well as engineering and architectural principles. And the girls want to make sure the house is built with maintenance in mind. They decided to start with a steel frame, which would be more durable and ecologically friendly. They measured and cut the materials, and combined them before building them on the mobile foundation.
Most young people have a basic knowledge of power tools, having done small projects at home, but the engineering and design aspects are new to them. Walsh said because women are often not exposed to this kind of class, he made it exclusive. Carondelet and its sister school next door, all-boys De La Salle, usually allow each otherâs students to attend certain classes, but this is reserved for Carondelet students, letting the women run the show.
Lauren Roach, 17, a senior from Clayton, said her interest in the class began when she needed to fill a free time period, and Engineering for Social Good looks interesting.
“It’s really not in my comfort zone,” Lauren said, “and that’s why I signed up. Carondelet is always willing to let us do different things, to give us a holistic education, and I learned a lot about how things work and how a home is built. I had to design one of the walls. “
Emmy Denton, a 17-year-old senior from Pleasant Hill, said she wasnât sure what the class was about, but the words âengineeringâ and âbuildingâ caught her attention.
âI want to work with my hands,â Denton said, even though his chosen career is more mental than physical – he wants to be a forensic psychologist.
Chloe De Smedt, a 17-year-old senior from San Ramon, had previously worked with Walsh and said the class was fun. He was especially attracted to the idea of ââusing sustainable materials.
âWeâre going to do a lot of hands-on building,â Chloe said. “There’s a lot to do and I’ve learned a lot.”
There is a great need for housing for migrant farm workers, said Dorina Moraida, co-founder and vice president of Hijas Del Campo. Workers rent rooms where they can be found, but many live in their cars and in tents. This will be the first small home for the group, Moraida said.
âWe hope it will be a home that can accommodate two workers at the time, or can serve as a launching post so they can be established in Brentwood,â he said. “We’re excited about home and extremely grateful.”
Both Walsh and Levesque had to learn correctly with the students, as their experience was mostly DIY home projects. Some parents with construction experience came in to act as mentors, but it became important, Walsh said, that the girls made most of the decisions and did most of the work.
âWe try not to be smart on stage,â Levesque said. “It’s great to see them understand this and execute it.”
Walsh said while some of the students may have careers in engineering or architecture, thatâs not the goal of the class.
âWe want to light a spark,â Walsh said. “It’s up to them what they do.”