Construction-site classroom to build learning

Posted: Wednesday, August 02, 2000

The houses Juneau-Douglas High School construction students help build each year serve as hands-on classrooms. But having an actual classroom nearby will help teachers hammer in the math and English lessons they plan to tie to the construction work.

That's the idea behind a plan to have a portable classroom put up at 4491 Kanat'a St., in the S'it'tuwan Subdivision in the Mendenhall Valley.

Three JDHS teachers have been working with Tlingit Haida Regional Housing Authority and the Home Builders Association of Juneau on the project. The 28-by-64-foot classroom would be near lots that have been set aside for students to build houses on over the next few years.

Construction teacher Craig Mapes, English teacher Bill Chalmers and math teacher Alan Degener plan to use it as they team up to teach their three subjects.

``We feel the advantage of having the classroom right there is we can have immediate application of the skills learned,'' Mapes said.

JDHS students have been learning the construction trade hands-on for several years through the house-building program.

Last year a new dimension was added. Chalmers worked with Mapes to weave language arts into the project, having students do assignments such as write a letter to a fictitious building inspector.

This year Degener will join the team, teaching math concepts such as angles and slope by using the house as an example.

``I can take the kids right across the street and show them an example right there of what it looks like, why we need to know that,'' Degener said. ``It's just direct application.''

The plan is that students would be bused out to the house-building site. Once there, a third would take math, another third English and the rest would work on the house. The three groups would rotate through the three classes during the block of time allotted for the program.

The teachers plan to go ahead with the multi-disciplinary approach even if the classroom isn't up by the start of this school year, but having it next door could make the program more effective, Mapes believes.

The project is requiring the cooperation of several groups.

The city agreed to sell the lot for the classroom to the Tlingit Haida Housing Authority, along with two other lots on which houses would be built. The housing authority is negotiating to buy a portable classroom from Juneau Christian School to place on the lot, said spokeswoman Barbra Holian. Members of the Home Builders Association are doing the site preparation.

Those involved are still hoping to find someone to donate fill material because a low spot on the lot must be filled before the classroom can be moved there, Holian said.

Schools Superintendent Gary Bader said there may be some cost to the district, ``but I expect it to be minimal.''

Once the classroom is in place, the housing authority would maintain it, except that the construction class would be asked to take care of some basic tasks, such as shoveling snow, Holian said.

After school the classroom could be used for a homework program for neighborhood students. In the evening the housing authority might use the classroom for its own purposes, teaching adult classes on subjects such as home maintenance, personal finance and so forth, she said.

Tlingit Haida also plans to ask that the students change the facade of the building to make it look like a tribal house, with the housing authority providing supplies for the work, Holian said.

``We want them to learn a little something about traditional Native construction and just to learn to respect the facility,'' she said.

The Juneau Planning Commission has approved a permit allowing the classroom to be placed on the property for five years -- the length of time it will take students to build houses on nearby lots.

After five years, the housing authority would have several options. It could continue using the modular building for evening classes, move it to another site or convert the building to a permanent house. Continuing to use it at the site would require additional city permits.

School district officials said profits from the sale of the student-built houses, which in the past have been constructed on donated lots, go into a district fund to help pay for future projects. Profits have been relatively small, given busing and other costs of the program.

Tentative plans for the next few years are for students to build houses on three Tlingit Haida lots near the classroom, but it hasn't yet been decided how those houses would be disposed of. Holian said if the houses meet the federal guidelines the housing authority must follow, it may purchase them. Otherwise they would be sold on the open market, with the school district repaying Tlingit Haida the cost of the lots, without interest.

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