Building program helps local high school students ‘learn by doing’ |

Building program helps local high school students ‘learn by doing’

Heidi Rice
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Does anyone really know the reason for algebra? Most of us have never used what we learned in that course. A new program aims to change that and raise money for college scholarships.

High school students in the Roaring Fork Valley from Glenwood Springs to Aspen will have a chance to put their math, finance, geometry, chemistry and sustainability skills to work with a new program called Houses for Higher Education.

About 50 people met Thursday evening in Carbondale to talk about the program, which is targeted to begin in September, and how it might work.

The premise is to involve high school students in real-life building projects – from inception to completion – and use the knowledge they’ve learned in the classroom.

“This is a brand new project that we started talking about in September of 2010,” said Aaron Garland, a Carbondale resident and co-founder of the project. “A bunch of us started talking about how high school students could get involved in construction and remodeling and working with a mentor who would oversee a project. If the old adage is ‘learn by doing,’ then let’s get doing.”

The students will work on the projects in the afternoons and weekends and get school credit. Interested students can register online and school counselors are drawing up lists of students who might be good candidates.

“We’re going to start with any students who are interested,” Garland said. “From there, it might be based on the location of the project and transportation needs.”

Garland got together with Michael Regan and George Stranahan, also of Carbondale, to form the non-profit project, which is now guided by a seven-member board.

“About a year ago, we started having ‘what if,’ conversations,” said Regan, who has been a longtime builder in the valley. “We started meeting every two weeks and we got a lot of support and interest.”

The hands-on building projects would help students develop critical thinking skills, build confidence and provide a service to the community.

“Everybody we’ve talked to is coming out their seats, wanting to participate,” said Regan. “One of the big reasons we’re doing it is because of the community support from everyone from builders, teachers, parents and architects.”

Ideally, the group would like to have a piece of land where they can build something from the ground up, but they are also open to building residential sheds, home additions, artist studios, mother-in-law apartments or other projects.

“”We’re looking at pretty much everything,” Regan said. “And the kids will be guided by professionals, so we’ll make sure whatever they do, it will come out looking great.”

The buildings will also incorporate green energy and sustainable designs and materials.

“For me, that’s a big part of it,” Regan said. “You need to put sustainability in your brain and introduce it early on and come up with your own answers on how to solve the problems.”

Stranahan, a longtime local philanthropist, co-founder and board member, believes that people will become enthused about Housing for Higher Education one community at a time.

“We’ve had a lot of interest and nothing but positive feedback here,” Stranahan said. “We’re going to do it and we’ve gotten a lot of support.”

The Houses for Higher Education project was started with the idea of creating a college scholarship fund for students.

“When the idea was first kicked around, the plan was to build spec homes and raise $75,000 to $100,000 to put into a scholarship fund,” Garland said. “But it’s going to take a while for us to get to that point.”

Right now, funding is needed – through grants or private donations – to get the project off the ground.

“We’re hoping to raise $15,000 to $20,000 at the bare minimum,” Garland said. “That will help with tools and materials. But once it’s up and running, the projects should fund themselves. But it will probably take six to eight small scale projects to net enough to get to the point where we can keep our heads above water.”

One of the first things the group is seeking is a piece of ground to start its first building.

“It’s like a modern day barn-raising,” Regan said. “We’re going to start small and create a model that we can take and stamp throughout Colorado and then take it through the country. I’m excited about the projects.”

The project is expected to begin in the 2011-2012 school year. For more information or to make a land donation, contact Regan at (970) 379-0785.

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