LAYTON — On every other school day last year, Layton High School Senior Josh Lillywhite got to leave school for a couple of periods and spend time a block away at a residence on 234 East on Golden Avenue.
There, he and 75 other construction trade students set aside their pencils and books in exchange for hammers, nails and measuring tape.
The students spent nine months of sweat and hard work building the 1,400 square-foot rambler to be move-in ready.
And those students were not the only ones busy building a house.
Nearly 600 carpentry students in the Davis School District — from five different high schools — have been working from the ground up on their projects. Layton, Northridge, and Syracuse high schools built rambler-style homes with three bedrooms, while Davis and Viewmont high schools built portable classrooms for elementary schools.
The student home-building program is a result of a partnership between Davis School District and the Utah Housing Corporation, which helps create affordable homes for first-time home buyers. At the end of the school year, it is a win-win situation for citizens, who are able to purchase a home sold at a low cost, while the construction students learn valuable life lessons.
Without the program, Lillywhite may never have come to appreciate his math classes. While framing up the house, he learned that if he got one of his angles off by just an inch, it affected the entire project.
“It’s been great because I actually see a point in doing math now that I actually see how it works,” said Lillywhite, who pulled out a fancy calculator for some of the stair work he completed.
For Alan Phillips, the Construction Trades teacher at Northridge High School in Layton, whose students finished building a house at 200 N. 342 West in Clearfield, the experience has completely turned the lives around for many of his 120 students.
“One of the biggest problems we see is kids who have been told they can’t do math or English, and have been told that for so long, they start believing it and quit trying,” said Phillips. “Here, they feel like they can accomplish something.”
He sees a wide variety of students come through his program — special needs kids anxious to help build something, concurrent enrollment students earning credit with Weber State or Salt Lake Community College toward a construction management degree, or other students who may struggle academically, but enjoy working with their hands.
Even though Phillips spends numerous personal hours helping his students finish the house, his pay-off comes from knowing how the experience affects the students.
“My favorite part is knowing I can make a change in someone’s life and give them something they can take with them, which sometimes means more than a grade on a transcript” said Phillips.
Those life skills the students gain is what has kept the school district participating in the program since the early 90s. Davis School District has discovered through the years that students often miss out on the application of math.
Neil Hancey, Career and Technical Education Supervisor for Davis School District said this experience is the ultimate application of math.
“Many of the comments made by students are, ‘Wait a minute, this is what we are doing in geometry,’” said Hancey. “It’s the perfect fit with carpentry when students are laying out dormers, bay window, or stairwells since there is a lot of math involved in it.”
The students get to build as much of the home as possible. Sophomore Hannah Hatch at Layton High School has enjoyed working on the detail work of the home, such as the molding and baseboards. The fact that she is one of only two girls in the program at Layton High doesn’t bother her.
“I just like working with my hands, which is a lot more entertaining than just sitting in class being lectured,” said Hatch.
She enjoyed her time so much, that she plans to be involved with the program again next year.