Milpitas Elementary School Students Tackle Big Project: Building A Tiny Home

When it comes to tiny people building tiny homes, John Sinnott Elementary School in Milpitas is leading the way.

As part of a “project-based learning” curriculum, six classrooms of third, fifth and sixth graders are building their very own miniature residence right on campus. Led by sixth grade teacher Rita Maultsby, they are the first elementary school in the nation to take on such an endeavour.

“We’re waiting to see if we hear from HGTV,” Maultsby said. “I mean why not, right?”

The finished product will be a 200 square foot home with a wraparound deck and benches in front. It will be used as a project-based learning museum, open to students, teachers and visitors who want to learn more about the hands-on, task-oriented learning experiences.

Like many of the increasingly popular tiny homes, it will not be connected the main power grid. Instead, solar panels on the roof will provide the needed electricity. It is not designed to be fully functional, which would require water and sewage hookups, but rather will have a small loft and serve as an extension of the classroom.

“(The students) are willing to believe that this is what we’re bringing to them,” Maultsby said. “These kids want to learn. They’ll do whatever it takes to learn.”

Wanting to catch the attention of Home and Garden Television isn’t much of a stretch for Maultsby, who came up with the idea while watching shows on the channel. She became interested in the tiny home trend and after seeing various programs document the building process, and the Milpitas teacher said she now wants to live in one after she retires.

But with more young minds to educate until then, she decided there was no time like the present to get started.

“I thought, well why am I waiting until I retire?” Maultsby said. “Why can’t we build a tiny home here?”

So that’s exactly what she set out to do. After gaining district approval and enlisting the help of Joe Flately, Milpitas Unified’s director of facilities and modernization, she and her students hit the ground running. Blach Construction, a local commercial builder and construction manager, as well as San Jose construction firm Duran & Venables decided to pitch in too.

“Getting the kids to think outside themselves sometimes is difficult because they’re in their own little space,” Maultsby said. “I was ready to get the community and other people involved.”

Last month, Duran & Venables helped by laying out the pad and walkway. Up next will be building the walls, a step that will include a student field trip to Blach Construction. Once the walls are constructed, the school will hold an old-fashioned barn raising after which the actual building will begin.

Maultsby said the students are learning how to collaborate, listen and understand one another throughout the process—all real life skills she thinks they will take with them long after the house is completed. She added that their willingness to believe in her and the other teachers involved is what makes the story, and the school, so great.

“I thought it was interesting and ambitious,” said sixth grader Sophie Tang. “I believed (Maultsby) would make it happen somehow.”

Reflecting on the early days of the project, Maultsby spoke of one student who raised his hand with a question she won’t soon forget.

“‘Why is the sky the limit?’” she recalled him asking. “‘Why can’t we go higher than that?’”

That, Maultsby said, was how she knew she was chasing the right dream with this project.

“When a student says that, then you know that what you’re doing is really what’s best for your students,” she said. “And how does a teacher say no to that?”

Contact Us