TUPELO • Roughly a year after the pandemic indefinitely delayed construction on Tupelo High School's tiny house, career-tech students are now back to work on the project.

Construction first began in Jan. 2020, and although bad weather and preparation for state testing (which ultimately didn't happen that year) delayed progress, construction teacher Scott Bridges was optimistic that the house would be completed by May 2020.

Little did he know, students and teachers wouldn't return from spring break that next week.

'Sometimes we have to pause'

Mississippi reported its first confirmed COVID-19 case on March 11, 2020 — just two days after the Daily Journal published an article about the tiny house progress.

Two days later, on March 13, Tupelo Public School District voted to extend spring break for one week. On March 18, Gov. Tate Reeves signed an executive order closing all school buildings through at least April 17, 2020.

On April 14, the governor announced that schools would remain closed through the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

"It was a shock," Bridges said. "It was like 'OK, how do I teach now?' and transitioning from a traditional classroom to a virtual classroom setting was a lot of 'What do we do? How do we do it?'"

By their very nature, Bridges' classes are largely hands-on. So when in-person learning wasn't possible, his students went back to the books, and Bridges focused on knowledge-based teaching instead.

Bridges said that while COVID-19 has presented a challenge, his students have learned a valuable lesson.

"Getting back to normality, getting back to finishing the project we started last year, it showed dedication to our work," he said. "It showed our students that sometimes we have to pause but we can come back and complete what we start even though it is a year later."

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As students return to the project, Bridges believes it will show them that sometimes life will force them to take a break, and that's OK. They can always pick up where they left off later.

"I can finish what I started," Bridges said. "Whether it's education, a career, whatever."

'It feels good to be back'

When students left for spring break, the walls of the tiny house were up, but the roof wasn't even framed yet.

Bridges, his son, and a couple of other teachers came to the school and put a tarp over the top of the tiny house to keep rain and weather out of it as best they could.

Although the project's completion date has now been pushed back an entire year, Bridges said he is once again optimistic the tiny house will be completed by the end of May.

After Tupelo students returned to the classroom in August 2020, work on the tiny house resumed gradually starting in October.

There are currently four second-year students working full-time on the tiny house during lab days, while four first-year students pitch in occasionally.

Arturo Olbera, a second-year construction student in 11th grade, said "it feels good to be back working on the tiny house."

"It feels like everything is going back to normal," he added.

The 288 square-foot house is 12 feet by 24 feet and will include a living room/kitchen space, a bedroom area and bathroom with a standard-sized shower.

Since picking up the project again, the students have finished putting the walls up, finished the housewrap and have nearly completed the roof.

In the next week, first-year students will rough-in the plumbing, finish roughing in electrical and start insulating the inside while second-year students will finish the outside.

The tiny house project was funded by a $10,000 Association for Excellence (AEE) in Education grant. The plan is to auction off the house and use that money to construct another the following year, then repeat the process.

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Tupelo Career-Technical Center Director Evet Topp said the school is grateful to AEE for making projects of this level possible, and excited about the skills this project allows students the opportunity to develop.

"It is significant that during times such as these, our students can finish what they started and have a that sense of normalcy," Topp said. "The pandemic has interrupted so much of our lives in the past year, it brings about a sense of encouragement that better days are to come and prayerfully ahead of us."

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