WLAA Student Home Builders Series: Students begin building 50th home

WeLoveAnnArbor.com is presenting a series of articles throughout the year on the Ann Arbor Student Building Industry Program. With the help and support of instructors Mark Valchine and Grant Welch, WeLoveAnnArbor.com will follow the process from start to finish, charting the progress along the way.

And so it begins.

The shovel – or in this case, the bulldozer – hit the ground earlier this month to begin the 50th home build for the Ann Arbor Student Building Industry Program, a class of high school students who spend the school year building a house from start to finish.

The students are at the job site, just outside the program’s trailer and right across the street from where they will build the program’s 50th house. This isn’t your typical classroom. For one, it’s outdoors and the students have hammers in their hands instead of pens. They are all closely paying attention to Mark Valchine, the instructor or “coach” of the class as he goes over the basics.

It wasn’t exactly, “this is a hammer,” but pretty close. It was more like, “this is this type of hammer and it’s used for this type of job.”

Remember, this isn’t your typical classroom, and learning and understanding how and why things work not only helps students learn better but also safer. The No. 1 priority in this classroom is safety and it’s a topic discussed and “hammered home” every step of the way.

“I don’t look at this as a class but a family, and we want the kids to feel at home in the program,” says Valchine.  “It’s about building confidence and building relationships. That’s the most important thing we teach.”

This is one of those special classes that not only teaches students how to use a hammer or a screw driver or shows how plumbing and electrical work but it teaches life lessons about working on a job site. And while this job site is on a residential construction lot, the skills of working together and accomplishing something and how to deal with people can apply to any working environment.

The program, which began in 1970, is divided into two classes (morning and afternoon), one instructor known as the “coach” and his assistant, along with a long list of volunteers and support staff which make up the board of directors called The Ann Arbor Student Building.


Arlo Durgy is a senior at Community and is excited about being a part of such an “awesome” program.

“I signed up because I am looking for both life skills and career opportunities,” Durgy said. “I have no idea what field I want to go into, but this is definitely something I would be interested in so I wanted to learn more about it.”

Durgy believes the class can set him “on a good career path.”

“It’s a lot of fun too to be out here with a group of guys doing manual labor,” he says.

Noah Webb, who also goes to Community, couldn’t agree more. But, of course, there is more to it than that.

“We learn something new every day,” he says. “Today we learned about different codes for water and sewer and electrical.”

Webb already knows a little something about running a business and working outdoors. He has run his own lawn care business (Arbor 1 Lawncare) since he was 10 years old.

“This might be something I want to do after I’m done with school,” he said. “It teaches a lot of life skills.”