With the support of TRADART Foundation, the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara, and many partners in construction, high school students across Santa Barbara have built three unique tiny homes from the ground up in their woodshop classes and are now getting ready to auction them off on May 23.
Since their near-obsolescence in the early 2000s, woodshop classes in Santa Barbara have made a huge turnaround. In fact, there were only two functioning woodshop classes left in the Santa Barbara Unified School District when TRADART, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of craftsmanship training, was launched in 2000.
“When TRADART found out about this, we stepped in with the district and offered our services through the Tools for Schools program,” said founder Leslie Meadowcroft-Schipper, who believes that every student should have the choice to learn the trades.
“The fact is, not everybody is going to go to college — college is an admirable avenue, but going to work in a construction company or with your hands is a very good alternative,” explained renowned contractor Frank Schipper, who is TRADART’s president and Meadowcroft-Schipper’s husband.
“It’s considered a second choice, and we think this is definitely a first choice,” added Meadowcroft-Schipper. “The pleasure of the trades, the ingenuity of it, the creativity of it, the independence of it, the whole mind-body application of it — we knew … we were not going to let the kids not hear about the trades.”
TRADART supports woodshop classes with several programs: Tools for Schools provides money for shop teachers to buy new materials; Career Days connects students with industry leaders and gives them a chance to experience the trades; Skills Passport offers technical courses that prepare students for industry jobs; and its newest addition, Tiny Houses, teaches students everything about building a home from the ground (or trailer) up.
The cornerstone of the Tiny Houses project is Santa Barbara High School shop teacher and TRADART boardmember Caleb Chadwick. “He knew his students were capable of building something bigger than a fruit bowl, a bread stand, and a bird house,” said Meadowcroft-Schipper, “so he applied for the grant, and that’s when this whole tiny house group started.” Two years ago, the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara granted $50,000 to seed the project.
“We have had a big, big learning curve,” said Schipper. “The teachers have to learn how to build tiny houses, and the teachers have to learn how to schedule a construction force in 50-minute increments.”
With Chadwick’s background in residential construction, his passion is giving kids an intro to framing, electrical, plumbing, and finish work. After he moved to Santa Barbara from Lake Arrowhead, his first idea was to “buy a cheap remodel and remodel the house as a class” — then he found out that a cheap remodel in Santa Barbara could be well over $1 million. With that off the table, he and the shop teacher at Dos Pueblos High School, Chris Mollkoy, set out to find a new solution. Enter the tiny homes.
Though most of the shop teachers have experience building houses, Chadwick explained that tiny home construction is “very different than building a residential home, in the sense that you have the most complicated portions of your house all in the same area as where you’re living.” He said, “It’s not as straightforward as I thought it would be.”
Such complications turned this one-year project into two years. The fires and floods also added “severe delays,” said Chadwick, explaining that it took the students a while to jump back emotionally from that.
For the project’s first round, each high school shop designed its own tiny home, which all turned out completely different in structure and style. For round two, though, the plan is to make them “much more streamlined,” said Chadwick, so that the students “can grasp what we’re trying to teach them for that framing unit but not get stuck on all of the little details that we’ve had to deal with this go-around.”
Since implementing the project, all of the woodshop classes have seen an increase in student enrollments. Chadwick is going from three woodshop periods to five next year, Santa Barbara Junior High has enough enrollments for nine periods, and Dos Pueblos’ enrollments have increased by 68 percent in one year.
The goal is to auction the tiny homes off each year to raise money and create “a self-perpetuating program so the next group of students can also build a tiny home,” said Meadowcroft-Schipper.
The three tiny houses from Santa Barbara, San Marcos, and Dos Pueblos high schools will be auctioned off on Wednesday, May 23, at Earl Warren Showgrounds, with bidding open until June 6. Here’s a sneak peek at each.
Santa Barbara High School
Santa Barbara High School’s tiny home has beautiful redwood paneling on the exterior, white paneling on the interior, a shed-style copper roof (donated from Martin Roofing), and lots of big windows. Senior Melissa Perez has been taking woodshop classes since 7th grade and is the project manager of the tiny home; her classmates call her “the queen.” “I’m always in here with Chadwick,” she said. “It [the tiny house] benefits us all because, as just high school students, we’re learning skills that will be helpful in all of our lives.” She plans to study construction management at Fresno State University next year.
Dos Pueblos High School
The Dos Pueblos tiny home is “kind of like a blank canvas,” said Mollkoy. “It could be a tiny home, it could be an office, [or] it could be an art studio.” It is a little smaller than the other two and has a gambrel roof, white interior, stairs that lead up to a loft bed, and hookups for a shower and small kitchen. The woodshop room at Dos Pueblos is huge and filled with students working on their individual projects, and the tiny home is outside with more kids working on that. “It’s really hard for me to be in and out,” said Mollkoy, as he whistles across the classroom, a signal for everyone to start cleaning up. But luckily he now has Nate Johnson, a new teacher and former student of his that Mollkoy worked to get hired and who is now the official tiny home supervisor.
San Marcos High School
San Marcos’ tiny home has gray shiplap exterior, a shed-style rooftop, veneered white plywood interior, stairs to a loft, a bright white door, and many windows that let in a lot of natural light. “The project is really student driven,” said junior Ishaan Karandikar, who’s in charge when shop teacher Justin Howe isn’t there. “We’re building a tiny house to help us understand what goes into building a real house,” he explained as students worked quietly and independently on ladders behind him, caulking windows and perfecting the little details.
By Paul Wellman