89 Square Feet Off the Grid


It is a tough time to be getting tossed out into the “real world”.  That’s what a lot of them call it, the high school kids I see in my classroom every day.  These kids are crazy powerful.  Give them ten focused minutes and their smartphone and they can become conversant in just about any subject you throw their way.  But when they make those first forays into that real world, they are finding that colleges have cut their intended major and there is a guy with an M.B.A. bussing the tables at the restaurant where they were trying to land a job.  A lot of these kids come back defeated.  Those of us that are in the business of working with these young women and men in the last stages before they graduate into adulthood have seen a generation ground down by constant talk of dried up jobs and foreclosed homes.  Too many in this most promising generation, the group of kids who have been Googling since they were five, have given up and resigned themselves to playing X-Box and eating Hot Pockets in their parents’ living room, just waiting it out and hoping things get better.

But it is a teacher’s job to make their students grow into their potential.  So a group of us are getting together to show these soon to be twenty somethings just how powerful they are.  A cohort of five teachers at Rancho Cotate High School in Rohnert Park, California are teaming up with the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company and local clean technology leaders to journey with our students through a project we call “89 Square Feet Off the Grid”.  Using Tumbleweed’s Epu plans as the foundation, students will build the home’s trailer in Welding class, frame and do the finish carpentry in Woods class, design and install the clean technology systems (a solar PV system, a composting toilet, and a water cistern and filtration system) in AutoCAD class, and will study the math and science behind it all in Geometry in Construction and in Physics.  

We tell them that they, more than any other generation before them, have the power to design their world, to bring their dreams and ideas to life, and they are starting to get it.  As they pour over the blueprints and start to see the material flowing in, there is an excitement building.  The freedom and vision that a tiny house on wheels represents is winning them over.  And while they might have been born into strange and challenging times that can wear at their young spirits, they are beginning to see what they are capable of building.  Our hope is that while it might start by building “89 Square Feet Off the Grid”, they will take the lessons learned on this journey and continue to design and dream their way out of all the challenges they face in our rapidly evolving world.  

They hold so much promise, more then we have let them see with our doomsday news cycle and our adult cynicism.  They are rising up to the challenge of this project, just as they will rise up to the challenging times they have inherited.  And then we will see just how powerful they truly are.

Cole Smith is an educator at Ranch-Cotate High School in Rohnert Park, CA. He will share the progress of his student build on a regular basis as a guest blogger for Tumbleweed. 

Written by Bridget Thornton — May 04, 2012

Filed under: epu   epu plans   green building   student builds  
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