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Columbus Schools' Tiny House Program Prepares Students For Careers, College

As tiny houses become more and more popular, Columbus City Schools is helping students get into the industry. The district says a new program will make students more employable in the growing industry after graduation.

“We’re in the construction arts hallway headed down toward the construction area,” says career education specialist Joe Rader.

Inside the Columbus City Schools’ mammoth Construction Arts building on the Fort Hayes campus, students learn all sorts of professional building skills.  

“Classrooms [are] on the right; lab space is on the left.  Masonry, carpentry, electricity and HVAC at this end of the building,” Rader says as he shows off the building.

Once outside, we walk across the parking lot to see the school's current source of pride: the Tiny House. 

“Inside the Tiny House right now, we have a futon couch with a flat screen TV,” Rader says.  “We have some accent lighting as you come in.  We have some old Thomas Edison fixtures to kind of give it some character.  We have plenty of cabinetry; a butcher block counter top; stainless steel appliances; and in the far back end you have a full-size shower, a full-size toilet, and above that you have a queen size loft.”

The Tiny House was built during the last school year by students enrolled in the school system’s Career and Technical Education curriculum.  But this is not the old-style vo-tech program says Rader.

“It’s not just for kids who cannot go to school and sit in a classroom; it’s for kids that want to go to college, kids that don’t want to go to college, kids that want to go straight to the workforce, we can give them all that and more,” Rader says.

Students who built the house or study another field at Fort Hayes can earn college credit . In some fields, they can earn certifications that would have cost thousands of dollars after high school.  

“For a student to go through cosmetology during high school it’s a very small fee," says Pegeen Cleary Potts, the tech program's executive director.

"After graduation, at a bare minimum, it’s a $15,000 program that they would have to pay for.  And then sit for the actual exam when they can do it while they’re juniors and seniors in high school and graduate with that industry credential,” says Cleary Potts.

Cleary Potts says there are more than 3 dozen courses of study in career-tech – even medical and dental training are available to high schoolers. 

To make sure students know about career technical opportunities, they get a field trip to Fort Hayes before their junior year. That’s how Ryan Spiegle got hooked.

“We took a field trip my sophomore year and you could see what programs you wanted to see and I chose the construction trades and then I got accepted into the program,” Spiegle says.

Spiegle was one of more than a dozen students who designed and built the Tiny House from the ground up.  They learned about framing, drywall, siding and roofing. 

Some wired the house, others installed heating and air conditioning. 

Spiegle says he did a lot of the interior work.

“It’s fun to me, I like it.  I like working with tools.  I like painting.  I just like construction in general,” Spiegle says.

Pegeen Cleary Potts says the program is the Columbus school district’s “hidden treasure.” 

Student Ryan Spiegle has this advice for his classmates.

“Stick with it.  It’s a long and boring road but at the end of the day it will pay off,” he says.

One of Spiegle’s classmates wants to study architecture in college when he graduates.