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Great Falls high school house construction and learning continues despite COVID-19 restrictions

Posted at 11:34 AM, Apr 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-11 13:34:31-04

This year students from Great Falls High School and C.M. Russell are working on building another "High School House." Students provide the labor and NeighborWorks supplies the lot, arranges subcontractors, and finances the construction.

With such a hands-on learning environment, how are the students able to switch to online during the COVID-19 school closures?

The students have been watching videos provided by their instructor Pete Pace, who says that while learning the actual construction aspects is critical, so is learning the numbers.

Pace explained, "It was a big transition from a real hands-on class to a distance learning environment, but there are so many awesome teachers in the school district and administrators that smoothed that transition for a teacher like me. There are so many different specialists in our school district that help me go from a hands-on class to an online learning environment. When you think of the trades, you often think of the hands-on learning environment that's important. Just as important as doing the hands-on work, there are many calculations too. To calculate how much concrete you need, how much material you need, how much paint you need.
We have been doing many things like that with the students to try and get them more involved with the book-work type thing that is very valuable to the trade. Yes, it has slowed us down. It is sad not to have the kids down here working, but we are dedicated to finishing this project. We also want to make it relevant to the students that we have a lot of distance learning, and we don't neglect those things that are important to the trades"

But he says the progress of everything has moved quicker than expected.

Pace said, "Due to how industrious this group of students was this year and the mild winter, we are actually ahead of the game as far as how along we we're on this construction project, but we have to finish some exterior things, with the interior we have just finished the drywall and the taping. Now we are moving on to the installation of doors, the finished work of the house. Installing cabinets and then we have some steps to build out of the back of the house, which will lend itself to some online learning for the online students. Will post some videos and do some essential stair calculations."
Even though Pace is doing this alone, he has help with finishing the High School House: "I have collaborated with NeighborWorks. They have contributed to this. It will mostly be me finishing this out. Practicing the social distancing, the kids won't work down here, but they will be involved through videos and online discussions quizzes and that."

They still have plans to finish the project on time and show the house a bit differently than usual.

"This house will be finished on the day we had planned, which is May 18th, that was a date scheduled for our open house. Right now, it's looking like we'll just have a virtual open house. That's important, the kids did 95 percent of this work where a very industrious group I had this year, I had to rein them back. They loved working; they loved being on this project, so, sadly, the chances are they might not be able to finish this out themselves. They did the bulk of this work and have something to be very proud of."