My memories from elementary school shop class are of making lots of fun, but ultimately useless paper holders and boxes. I'm sure my parents pretended to use them for a few months, and then they got relegated to a box in the attic. Florida shop teacher Barry Stewart had a much more practical idea in mind for his students. Barry wanted his class to learn construction skills while helping a good cause
About ten years ago, Barry was inspired by a program called Houses for Hounds, which provides dog houses to lower-income residents with pets in North Carolina. As it turns out, building dog houses can be used to teach the basics of constructing a human home.
“The framing technique and terminology for pet housing is the same as for a regular house," explains Barry. "The floor system, wall system, roof system and all the actual parts are identical. So, every part we use on the pet houses we can reference to the correlating part in the home. I realized that it would be easy enough to work into what we were doing in the classroom. It was a good fit.”
Additionally, students are tasked with identifying and rolling out structural improvements as they work on their projects. One adjustment was creating an off-center entrance to shield dogs from being hit directly with wind and rain. They also work on feral cat houses with removable roofs that allow for easier cleaning and access to kittens that need medical attention.
Barry says that this project teaches students to think about the reason behind everything. "Even a really good idea can withstand some improvements,” he says.
Since Barry started teaching his students how to build, they've donated over 600 dog houses and 110 feral cat houses. Currently the pieces are donated to Friends of Jacksonville Animals. This is such a great way for kids to learn new skills while also developing compassion for others!