Student Journalism at San Rafael High School

Off the Leash

Off the Leash

Off the Leash

Construction Trades Class Builds Career Opportunities for SRHS Students 

Although the houses are small, the feat is not. 

Picture this: two miniature houses, complete with a kitchen, a bed, electricity, and other essentials needed for a home, built entirely by students at San Rafael High School. Not only is the finished project going to be totally functional, but it will be used by real people in Berkeley and Oakland. 

Although the houses are small, the feat is not. 

Big Skills Tiny Homes, a Bay Area nonprofit since 2019, has partnered with San Rafael High School for the first time for the 2023-2024 school year to offer exciting construction skills opportunities to interested students. Throughout the year in the Building and Construction Trades class, taught by people who work for Big Skills Tiny Homes, students will learn how to build a house starting from the foundation to the finishing touches and decor.

“You have to try something before you know what it is,” says Sean Ticknor, Executive Director and founder of Big Skills Tiny Homes. “Until you do it, do you really know it?”

Exposure is the main goal of this class. It expands the vision of students who may not be looking to attend a four-year college and instead pursue a career in the construction trades. Opportunities to learn how to use cutting machines and electrical equipment are open to students who might not have access to these tools elsewhere. Hemerson Diaz, student in the Building and Construction Trades class, says he took this class to “get a headstart on [his] career.” 

Students are also utilizing this class to continue hobbies from outside of school. Student Anderson De Leon says, “I took this class because me and my dad used to do construction all the time and I wanted to see if I could do it without him being with me.” 

Even if a student wants to attend a 4-year college, this class teaches valuable skills in project planning and management, working with others, and problem solving. Of course, not every project goes perfectly the first time. When something goes wrong, “we talk in a team and plan it all again,” says De Leon.  

Students work in an environment with a special ratio of one instructor to five students. This gives the students a more hands-on and personalized experience. 

“By maintaining that ratio, everybody gets to try everything. It’s nice to get to try things to see what fits your personality,” says Ticknor. 

Students spend most of their time outside on the STEAM patio participating in hands-on construction. Ticknor says that there is about “two or three weeks of a given thing, and then onto the next! We’re just going to keep following the trajectory of a complete build, which changes every day.” Sounds of drills and saws can be heard coming from the workspace on a regular basis. Students are perched on ladders or stools with tools in hand, working on whatever needs to get done that day. Mondays are reserved for time inside the classroom to go over the project plan for the week.

“Everyone needs to know what they’re doing and to make sure it’s done correctly,” Diaz says. 

In 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act removed all classes that did not get students ready for a 4 year college from schools. The truth is, that route is not for everyone. Those who wished to further their education in construction, woodshop, and metalworking were left in the dust when SRHS and other high schools removed these classes in order to have better funding for more traditional classes set up to get students ready for a 4 year college. 

“That shift in our mentality as a country did a lot of damage,” says Matthew Winton, SRHS social studies teacher and board member of Big Skills Tiny Homes. “People have different paths and different jobs they can go into.”

In addition, the recession in 2008 helped keep these skills classes underfunded because there simply was not enough support from the state to continue these classes. Employment rapidly declined in the construction industry as well. Even after the recession, construction employers experienced a shortage of skilled workers. This shortage is still recovering today after the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the supply of construction workers. 

However, the completion of San Rafael High School’s new STEAM building in 2022 opened more opportunities for students to learn the construction trades. This new addition to the campus provides high-tech construction and engineering tools that are available to classes and students. Big Skills Tiny Homes bases their class experience out of this building, utilizing the materials and tools to work on their building project. Winton adds that “we want to use this place to get kids interested in those kinds of jobs.” 

This is just the beginning of the growth of Big Skills Tiny Homes and its relationship with SRHS. Ticknor considers a continuous process of expansion to be a win. In his dream world, Ticknor would like to see “[their] own giant warehouse, multiple classes, and instructors who speak Spanish.”

View Comments (2)
More to Discover

Comments (2)

All Off the Leash Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • L

    LucasOct 23, 2023 at 4:16 pm

    Amazing article. Very informative and interesting!

  • S

    SarahOct 16, 2023 at 9:21 pm

    Sharp and informative journalism. I learned a lot