At the Project School, it’s not uncommon for a Lowe’s gift card to be dropped off at the front desk, power tools to be in the mailbox, or parents to offer up a 12-passenger van.
Yearlong service-oriented projects done by seventh and eighth graders have been happening for years, and Tarrey Banks and Scott Wallace, who co-teach the seventh and eighth grade classes, said parents and community members know that whatever they donate will be put to use for a project at some point.
A reputation has been built, Banks said. He hadn’t even left the showcase of last year’s project before people were asking him what the next one would be.
This year, students are working with clients to design and build auxiliary backyard structures, such as playhouses and studios, for at least 10 current or upcoming Habitat for Humanity homes, known as “Project:Place.”
“I think part of the beauty of this project is a lot of these structures will be built from stuff that was used on another project, “ Banks said. “We’re going to resource stuff as much as possible, so it’s also got a sustainability focus in that regard, which is great.”
Banks said partnerships help them figure out what’s needed in the community. This year the project is 100% service oriented, he said.
Each Friday, Alex Minor, Tucker Jarroll and Ernesto Casteaneda, architects and designers from Loren Wood Builders, come to the school from 11 to noon to teach.
Emma Wild, an eighth grader, said she likes that they come in consistently because they can pick up where they left off the week before.
“It’s amazing,” Minor said. “I love it, just being around all the kids and they’re all so incredibly smart. They’re great and talented. I can see several of them taking my job in a few years.”
Part of what students have been working on so far is drawing structures from different angles. One day students went to sketch the courthouse from different points of view.
Emma said she’s most excited about drawing blueprints and planning the space to make it functional.
At this stage, students are focusing on the big picture, Minor said.
“So far, we’ve taught them mainly about the early stages,” Minor said. “How to conceptualize, understanding what the big idea is, understanding what the client really needs, understanding what the scope of work is and how to sort of guide clients in the right direction if you need to.”
Along with understanding design and building, Banks said the other part of the project is understanding the mission of Habitat for Humanity. This includes learning about housing options in Bloomington, and the class has already begun to build a 3D topographic map of the county.
Nathan Ferreira, director of land development and production for Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County, said Habitat’s mission of eliminating poverty housing should be everyone’s mission.
“Habitat’s vision is to build strength, stability, self reliance and shelter,” Ferreira said. “I think we’re usually seen as being solely focused on that shelter piece, but this is such an opportunity for community building. Loren (Wood) is on our board, we have Habitat parents who have kids that go to this school, so there’s a there’s a natural synergy for us to be involved in this.”
Ferreira said students learning about housing in Monroe County at this stage of life is a great thing.
“We do a lot more than I think we realized when we started building houses,” Ferreira said. “It’s really the community building that makes people thrive and develop that self reliance over time, and home, it helps create home. So I think this is a really cool project for creating that for them.”
Eli Roussos, an eighth grader, said in the future, he wants to buy houses, remodel and renovate them, then sell them.
“It helps to learn about the actual construction part, the physical labor,” Eli said about the project. “The designing part and the planning sounds fun, but I also want to see how it all fits together, because you’ve got to buy different materials, you’ve got to probably shave them a little bit, cut off however much you don’t need and then see the finished product.”
Minor said designing can apply to many different aspects of life. Someone can design a conversation or an email or apply designing to art and color theory, he said. Wallace said learning that was the goal of last year’s project.
“We felt like we were getting pigeonholed as these are the guys who build stuff,” Wallace said. “We’re really passionate about design.”
So they set out to design something that wasn’t physical, which led to making documentaries.
When it comes to thinking of project ideas, Wallace said he and Banks consider what’s trending and what students might be seeing on social media, as well as what needs could be met.
“We kind of had this epiphany,” Wallace said. “You know, when people think about school projects and you get the classic like, ‘Let’s do a movie night and fundraise for kids in Haiti,’ I think for certain ages that’s great. But we think 13 and 14 year olds can do more than that. We also learned that there’s all kinds of really smart people out there doing great work that we don’t need to recreate. Instead, we need to find those people, let them teach our kids and figure out how we can support them.”
Wallace said he and Banks made an agreement to honor big ideas, no matter how big.
As this year’s project continues, students will be in teams of six. Banks said students will come up with names for their company and apply for positions within the groups, such as lead architect or documentarian, as well as design their own websites and logos.
In June, an event will be held to showcase the project. Banks said documentaries made by students of the project will be shown and he hopes clients will be there.