Shop teacher Barry Stewart came up with a genius way to intermingle learning, creativity, and philanthropy all at once.
While most students in shop class learn how to make things like wooden boxes and wall sconces, Stewart’s construction students learn how to make dog houses for local shelters and cat houses for feral felines.
The teacher got the idea 14 years ago when he was teaching in North Carolina. He heard about a program called Houses for Hounds through the Forsyth County Animal Control, in which the houses are provided to lower-income residents who own dogs.
As it turns out, the wooden structures provide a great amount of shelter for the animals. (Note: this does not mean that dogs can safely stay outside 24/7, especially when it’s cold.)
But that’s not all. Students also learn the basics of building human houses, but on a smaller scale.
“The framing technique and terminology for pet housing is the same as for a regular house…The floor system, wall system, roof system and all the actual parts are identical. So, every part we use on the pet houses we can reference to the correlating part in the home. I realized that it would be easy enough to work into what we were doing in the classroom. It was a good fit,” said Stewart in an article by PEOPLE.
Additionally, students learn creative problem-solving skills, leading to structural improvements. For instance, the entrance to the dog houses are off-center to shield pups from being directly hit with wind and rain. The feral cat houses have removable roofs so that caretakers can easily clean the inside, as well as access kittens to be spayed, neutered or given necessary medical attention.
“That experience taught students that there is actually a thought process behind most things…Even a really good idea can withstand some improvements,” said Stewart in PEOPLE.
Then, there are those students who are really impacted by the experience and the opportunity to help animals.
“Each year, there are always a few students in the class that are passionate about pets and put a little extra effort into it. They want everything to fit perfectly and spend a lot of time and care on what they’re doing,” the teacher said in PEOPLE.
Now in Jacksonville, Florida, the teacher is continuing teaching students how to build the houses, now donating to Friends of Jacksonville Animals, Inc..
In almost a decade and a half of teaching shop, Stewart and his classes have donated over 600 dog houses and 110 feral cat houses locally.
What a great idea! Do you think that more schools could/should adapt animal charity and welfare work into their curriculums? Tell us!