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Students Build Playhouse for Terminally Ill Child

What started as a geometry project is changing the lives of kids in Boone County Schools and reshaping the educational approach for leaders in the district. To start the 2015 school year, Vice Principal Joe Hibbett and Director of Innovative programs Jerry Gels encouraged teachers to try project based learning, and early results showed promise.

“After discouraging a tiny house project, I shared this goofy dream I have of building a village of crooked playhouses for a Christmas display. The next morning math teacher Andrew Brown and Hibbett, came to me with a series of geometry lesson plans and the schematics for a crooked playhouse,” Gels said. “I kind of wanted to tell them I was kidding but I could tell there would be no stopping them.”

Over the course of next few days students would start designing and budgeting for the houses they were designing. Brown would go on to rally the staff and kids and by April his students completed nine houses and a 15-ft. tower.

Stephanie Haggerty, principal at Camp Ernst Middle School, heard that after each build, the students looked for ways to improve them, including adding wheelchair accessibility. She approached the team about building one for her terminally ill niece and her six siblings.

“Mr. Brown, Mr. Hibbett, and the students jumped at the opportunity. What was incredible was the project was started in the summer. Kids came in regularly to work on it in June and July,” Gels said.


The work is also having an impact on the students who are doing the building. At the center where the work takes place, there 197 suspensions four years - when only 90 students were there. By April of this year, 210 students were at the center but zero suspensions were recorded. Attendance has also improved: students who had been absent between thirty to eighty days of the school year were now present every day and staying well past 6 p.m., the school district said.

70 students, many of whom were former drop-outs, went on to get diplomas.

“This year we have an entire school dedicated to Project Based Learning and we started another program called the Homebuilders program.," Hibbett said. "We couldn’t be more excited about what’s happening, and to think it really started with building that first playhouse."

The new playhouse for the terminally ill child will be delivered on October 11. It can be seen at the former Florence firehouse that the city recently transferred to Boone County Schools where the district operates a new robotics center.

-Staff report

Photo: A playhouse in progress (provided)