ETHS construction class hopes to build on last year’s results


Caroline Olsen/The Daily Northwestern

Evanston Township High School students have started to construct a two-story house in the school’s parking lot. The project is part of a class in which students learn geometry through hands-on experience and build affordable housing for a family with low income.

Benjamin Din, Reporter

Evanston Township High School is offering a class for a second year in which students work to build an affordable house for a low-income family.

The course, called Geometry in Construction, teaches students geometry through practical applications. The class launched last academic year and is taught by ETHS teachers Matthew Kaiser and Maryjoy Heineman.

“Learning geometry while sort of learning the skills of carpentry and all those other kinds of things we thought was pretty cool and aligned with our vision of creating more interdisciplinary options and opportunities for students,” ETHS principal Marcus Campbell said.

The course takes up two class periods blocked into one, providing more time for instruction. Students learn geometry and work on construction on alternating days of the week, said Heineman, an ETHS math teacher.

Heineman said the student response to the course has been positive. Even parents have been getting involved, he said, forming a support group to address any needs that may arise in the class.

“Once students are involved in the course, they really find that the applied learning gives them a whole new perspective in math and allows them to really visualize and comprehend sometimes really abstract concepts,” said Kaiser, an ETHS career and technical education teacher. “It’s been very well received by the student population.”

ETHS hosts Community Build Days on select Saturdays throughout the school year. The build days allow ETHS staff and members of the Evanston community to participate in construction, which takes place at the ETHS parking lot on Lake Street and Grey Avenue.

“We are so fortunate to have the kind of volunteer support that we get from the whole group on Community Build Days,” Heineman said. “We do have people who’ve never met each other now working together for this greater cause.”

The house built by last year’s class currently stands at 1941 Jackson Ave., a lot that was donated by the city. Subcontractors are expected to put the finishing touches on the house by the end of October, at which point it will go on the market, Kaiser said. Community Partners for Affordable Housing, a Highland Park, Illinois-based nonprofit, will broker the sale of the property.

This year, students are building a two-story house with three bedrooms and two and a half baths, compared to last year’s single-story house. It is expected to be 100 to 200 square feet larger than last year’s approximately 1,300 square foot house, Kaiser said. The house will be shipped to 1820 Dodge Ave. upon completion, a few blocks north of ETHS.

Both Kaiser and Heineman said timing was a big issue in last year’s course, especially with the adverse weather conditions of the past winter. This year, though, construction is three weeks ahead of where it was last year, Campbell said.

Campbell said he attributes the success of the course to the community’s outstanding response, citing support from the city, Evanston Lumber and local contractors, electricians and architects.

“A lot of times with schools, you’re dealing with a lot of hypothetical situations. You’re given a lot of practice situations, but this is a real-time live event,” Campbell said. “It’s very exciting, so I’m very proud of our students. I’m proud of the staff. I’m proud of Evanston for taking on such a task.”

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