Andrew Vrieze says building leads the math, but the math also leads the building.
This is the philosophy Vrieze has for his first-year Geometry in Construction class at Lewis-Palmer High School in Monument, where students are taught geometry in an applied trade.
The new program was implemented by instructors Vrieze and Kale Dyer. Their students recently completed the construction of their first free-standing structure, a prototype greenhouse.
With this first greenhouse completed and located outside in the class’s build site, near the school’s north-side entrance to its athletics facility, the 30 students in the class will separate into three smaller groups to produce nine more greenhouses over the next couple of months.
Vrieze said the class and program was designed by educators at Loveland High School almost 10 years ago. Vrieze and Dyer traveled to Loveland to observe the program there and found 120 students actually building a house every year for Habitat for Humanity, to be donated to a family in need.
The initial project for the LPHS students was planned on a smaller scale. Projects’ scope will be adjusted as the program grows.
“We needed something for the kids to build,” Vrieze said. “We started out with picnic tables, started building little stair risers for the elementary schools.”
A structure was the next step. The students built a ¾-inch scale model of the greenhouse before putting the lifesize, usable structure together as the class’ first build. Vrieze said a children’s playhouse and a chicken coop may be next.
However, with the intent of having students learn by repetition and build more than one greenhouse, the program announced pre-sales of the structures to the community on social media. Nine additional greenhouses were sold at $1,500 each — the cost of materials, Vrieze said.
Ryan Lewis, a sophomore in the class who previously helped his father finish and build a bedroom in the basement of their home, said the greenhouse project is a predecessor to building tiny houses next year. He said making the greenhouse has helped the class learn the fundamental basics of homebuilding.
“We are learning the basics of home building, being able to wield all the tools, but we are also learning how to work with other people,” Lewis said. “At the start of this year, I found out that I’m a pretty good leader, or at least that’s just what my friends say.”
Sophomore Allie Buckley said although the initial design of the greenhouse was the brainchild of Vrieze and Dyer, students were allowed to make changes along the way.
“For the doors, they let us do our own designs and whatever we wanted to do,” she said. “If we made mistakes, they were encouraging and showed us how to fix it. It was a lot of fun that way.”
Buckley said she is excited to add customizations to the next greenhouse builds per client requests.
“I never thought I’d be in a class like this, because I was like, ‘Geometry? Eww.’ Now that we are making things and being able to sell them, it’s very cool,” she said.
Vrieze said the class begins with teaching students how to figure the math out when planning a build. There was also team-building involved so by the time the students got to the build site, they were familiar with each other and their capabilities. Once on-site, the mathematics apply in a hands-on setting.
Sophomore Kylie Donlan said having the math and knowledge applied to a “real-life” scenario has helped her to learn. “I’m more of a hands-on and visual learner,” Donlan said.
“I do well in typical classroom situations, but I like putting my hands and my head to work instead of sitting in a classroom for an hour and 45 minutes, listening to people. It helps me more.”
Of course, not everything on the build went without hiccups. Sophomore Matthew Gray said having 30 kids building one greenhouse made things cramped and crowded at times. In addition, there were organizational aspects to learn with the process as well, especially when it came to finding the proper tool for a specific portion of the project.
Other than a couple of organizational issues, the project went smoothly. However, with the class separating into smaller groups to work on the next nine greenhouses, Gray said he expects it will be easier to keep track of who is doing what. Gray said he feels the class has helped him feel more confident with the trades involved and his own skillset.
“When I first applied to get in the class, I never thought we would actually be building greenhouses and stuff,” Gray said. “I thought we would build small projects, like scale models. I never thought I’d have to be carrying around lumber so I could build a structure.”
Vrieze said the community has been instrumental in the program. Having started with “pretty much nothing,” the class has received donations of materials and funds to purchase tools. Also, The Home Depot and area home builders and contractors donated safety gear including hard hats and eyewear.
When it came time to build the greenhouse, it took just four class periods.
“It felt a lot longer, because we were mixing in the math and everything,” Gray said. “It didn’t take too long though because everyone was on task and knew we had to get it done. … In the long run, having smaller groups will help us get through the nine we are building a lot faster.”
Vrieze would like to have the program partner with the Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs to build a house every year or two. Eventually, the program will also implement HVAC, plumbing and electrical trades among others to broaden the students’ knowledge prior to graduation in hopes of finding apprenticeships if they wish.
Homebuilding trades currently offer high wages because of a shortage of skilled laborers, Vrieze said. Many contracting firms will even pay for laborers’ college education and certificate programs, he said.
“The more experience you have, the more valuable you are,” Vrieze said. “If we can teach them a little bit about all these trades, and how all those things tie in, then it helps to have more success in the future.”