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Learning by Doing: How a Middle School Class Built and Sold a House, Really!


Measure Twice, Cut Once

For the past several years, a cross-curricular team of Middle School faculty members, school staff and alumnae have collaborated on a series of Build projects that exemplify the school’s teaching of design thinking, the opportunities that students have to gain hands-on experience and through creating in our MakerSpace and our commitment to fostering connections within our local community. It started in a Math class. Noticing that their students were interested in more real-world practice in their curriculum on measurements, a team of Middle School faculty members collaborated to  devise a project that would help the students not only learn the information but gain experience applying it... to building a house!  This effort became known as Project Build. 

It Takes a Village

architect partnership

Over the course of the school year, the students leveraged the principles of design thinking to ideate, design and ultimately build multiple houses with various purposes in mind. Leveraging the state-of-the- art technology in their Katherine and Robert Boh Innovation Lab, the students built and tested their designs, ensuring that their houses would be hurricane-proof, and meet all other requirements of Project Build. As the project plan unfolded and expanded in complexity, various local businesses* donated their expertise and resources, also giving students exposure in the valuable skills of community-building, networking and earned media. 

Prototypes and Power Tools

construction 2

Students found opportunities within this project to uncover their own capabilities in various academic subjects, such as mathematics and applied science, as well as hands-on activities such as (safely) handling construction components and power tools. Research consistently shows that giving students the opportunity to try something new, particularly in an area that may seem intimidating or out of their ability, is an excellent way to build confidence as well as new skills. By learning that they are indeed capable of using power tools, our middle school students uncovered a power of their own – their ability to collaborate, conceive of and construct a tiny house!

Staging and Marketing

One of the key decisions in the ideation stage of the process was determining what ultimate purpose the project would serve, a decision which guided the subsequent design decisions. Early on in the process, the students decided to donate one of their houses to the Sacred Heart auction fundraiser. However, this left many open-ended questions: how can you complete the construction of a house when you don’t know who will ultimately buy it? And how can you market that house so that it will appeal to the most people? This is when Sacred Heart alumnae and real estate mavens Anne Comarda and Julie Comarda stepped in to guide the class through important lessons on curb appeal, staging, marketing and some of the industry secrets that they employ at Engel & Völkers. a locally owned, globally connected real estate brokerage firm serving clients across the Greater New Orleans area.  After an initial meeting, Anne and Julie arranged for a professional photographer to capture the house, designed a brochure and helped to kick off a marketing campaign based on selling points provided by the students. 

Next Up: The Auction Paddle 

After a few last touches from the Middle School, and with some staging assistance from Engel & Völkers team, and the house will be ready for auction on November 15. This promises to be a high-attention item, as trends in outdoor living spaces and she-sheds continue to rise in our tropical New Orleans climate. Stay tuned for what happens next, and if you want your own chance to bid on the house, check the Auction website in the coming weeks for details of the online auction items. 

*Special Thanks
Sacred Heart, and in particular the Middle School students and faculty, would like to thank the following individuals and businesses for their invaluable partnership throughout this one-of-a-kind learning opportunity:

  • Steve Finegan, architect and parent of Kelly Finegan ’05, Ali Finegan Jones ’07 and Emery Finegan Kirkikis ’10, who met with students as part of their cross-curricular STEM project and provided feedback on their prototypes. 
  • Michael Diecidue, President of DASH Lumber & Supply and father of Amy Deicidue Savoie ’01 and Michel Deicidue, and John Ransone with JEB Ransone Lumber Company for providing the lumber and materials used in the build project
  • Margaret Orr, WDSU meteorologist and mother of Kathleen Settoon ’03 and Grace Settoon ’08, who spoke to our students and provided insight into the weather patterns of Hurricane Katrina, as well as the responses and experiences of the city officials and people of New Orleans. Margaret also visited the Build Project during construction and posted a video to her Facebook account, which was viewed approximately 3,000 times.
  • Anne Comarda ’75, Joyce Delery ’79 and Julie Comarda ’06 (daughter of Anne) of Engel & Völkers New Orleans for their advice and in-kind support of real estate marketing.
  • Marcus Burrell of IMOTO Real Estate Photography for in-kind support of photography services.

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