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Students build tiny sustainable house at Key School camp

TinyHouse2WBy Betsy Stein

Middle schoolers make the perfect construction crew. That’s what the folks at SustainaFest have come to find out while leading a three-week camp to build a sustainable “Tiny House” at The Key School in Annapolis.

“They are old enough to learn and young enough to be excited about what they are doing,” says George Chmael II, SustainaFest’s board chair. “They are doing a great job. They are learning the amazing skills of a traditional trade but our program is much broader. … They are also problem-solving in the context of sustainability.”

From July 7-25, more than 50 students from Annapolis, Baltimore and the surrounding area have joined forces with military veterans, building experts, educators and the sustainability leaders from SustainaFest to take on the challenge of building a mobile, high-tech, hyper-efficient and sustainable “Tiny House.” The 210-square-foot, off-grid house will demonstrate the latest in sustainable building materials and green technology, including solar electricity, rainwater filtration and innovative interior design to maximize space and efficiency.

When completed, the house will be taken to schools, festivals and events to showcase sustainable shelter and promote SustainaFest’s Student Sustainability Lab program.

Rylan Cole, 12 and a rising eighth-grader at Key School, signed up for the camp after seeing the movie “Tiny” and learning about the Tiny House Movement at school last year.

“It’s trending right now. Sustainable houses are really cool and could be what we live in in the future,” Rylan says, although she has a hard time envisioning living in such a small house herself. “I have a lot of things that I am deeply attached to,” she admits. “But on the other hand, it’s a great idea.”TinyHouse3W

Kids could sign up for either a half day or full day for one, two or all three weeks, according to Donna Cole, the media and social media liaison for the SustainaFest Tiny House build and mother to Rylan. At any given time there are 15 to 20 kids working on the site.

Each day of camp starts with a 30-45 minute classroom session on one of five topics — water, energy, materials, place/health and equity, Chmael explains. Vince Leggett from the Annapolis Housing Commission was a guest speaker and covered the challenges of homelessness and elderly housing in Annapolis and how a sustainable Tiny House could hold the answer, Chmael says.

“They are learning everything from global poverty to how to nail a nail straight, how to use a T square and how to hang a door. It’s a tremendous invigorating and educational experience for them,” he explains.

SustainaFest is an Annapolis-based nonprofit in its second year of educating and engaging people in an attempt to strengthen the community, improve the environment and support the local economy. The hope is to take the Tiny House to other schools and communities to promote the Student Sustainability Lab, a three-week educational program that schools can incorporate into their curriculum to help students understand human-environment interactions, sustainable living, and people’s connectedness with ecosystems, economic systems and one another.

“The Lab seeks to complement the traditional preK-12 educational disciplines by combining art, humanities, social sciences and the physical and life sciences in a way that excites students to explore alternatives and create a more sustainable future for themselves,” Chmael says.

It has certainly done that for Rylan.

“I’ve really liked the teamwork component, but the biggest lesson is that I don’t need that much,” she says. “Cutting down might be a good idea.”

For details to to doneate visit the SustainaFest website.

Photos courtesy of SustainaFest and Key School.

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