Student-built house considered top quality by pros

Students Miranda Cox, Emily Rousell, Jacob McGuckin and Ryan Snuverink stand in front of the house they helped build in CTE. Photos by Jo Mathis.

By Jo Mathis
AAPS District News Editor

Kathy Rousell was surprised when her daughter Emily said she had applied for the Ann Arbor Student Building Industry Program through AAPS’ Career and Technical Education (CTE) this past school year.
Somehow, she’d never envisioned her petite daughter lugging two-by-fours or power tools.
By the end of the year, both mother and daughter were thrilled with the experience.

Emily Rousell and her mother, Kathy, are huge fans of CTE.

“I didn’t think it would be her cup of tea, but Emily came out here and worked really hard,” said Kathy Rousell, standing in the recently completed 2400-square-foot house Emily helped build. “She grew through this program as an individual and as a young woman. It gave her a lot of confidence. Coach (John Birko) is the best person she could have possibly had contact with this last year. She just loved this. She came home every day from school and she would tell me what she did here. She’d talk the talk: `We did this with the joist and the rafters, and we did this …’ I didn’t fully understand it, but I thought, `Wow.’ It was amazing to me as a parent to see how involved she got in this whole process.”

For 45 years, the Ann Arbor Student Building Industry Program has allowed AAPS high school students to build a new home from raw land to finished product.

The program’s newly completed house at 2400 Earl Shaffer Court is on the market now for $379,900.  According to realtor Pat Durston, who has listed the house, the workmanship is “spectacular.” All 10 houses on the street have been built by the students, and homeowners have been very satisfied, she said. This coming school year,  students will build a house on the last lot on the street.

“When I show this house to prospective clients, I always talk about the quality because think about how many eyes there are watching what goes on here,” she said at a recent open house for the program’s partners, as well as AAPS administrators and counselors who might recommend the program to students.

Emily  and her mom in the living room.
Realtor Pat Durston expects the house to sell quickly.

Durston said she would put the house up against that of any top builder in Ann Arbor because the students use high quality materials, and work under the watchful eyes of many experts.

Lead program instructor
 John Birko
 said the trade skills is an alternative way to learn that requires knowledge of math, reading, computer science and technology, for starters.

“We know that hands-on and visual are the best way that humans learn, and yet we don’t do enough of it,” he said. “And every time we introduce that stuff—like what we’re doing here, they learn so much faster. So for them, this is their opportunity to really dig in on the math that they’ve been learning all their life to the point that they don’t even recognize that it’s math. They just call it stuff we use to get work done.”

Many volunteers who believe in the program donate their expertise through the school year, he said.
Looking around the room, he pointed to bankers, realtors, construction lawyer, suppliers, and program alum now on the board.

“This program is very, very important to them because they need skilled, trained people to make sure their businesses thrive,” he said.

AAPS does not own the land, but provides Birko and learning materials, while the AASBIP provides construction supervision and brings in skilled tradesmen to instruct the students and help the students finish parts of the house. Money from the sale of the house is cycled into the next house, and covers expenses.

“The way the kids have put them together—obviously with the help of the trades that have come in—is pretty amazing,” said Scott Broshar, president of the Ann Arbor Student Building Industry Program, and owner of Absolute Title. “They’re pretty much top-of-the-line for the type of house and size of house that we can do here.”

Skyline High School student Ryan Snuverink has a summertime job in construction thanks to the class.

“At the beginning of the year, I had absolutely no idea whatsoever what I was going to do when I graduated high school, and this is opening a ton of doors on stuff I can do,” said Snuverink, who knows now that he’ll pursue a career in construction.

Classmate Jacob McGuckin has other plans, but is very glad he took the course.

“It looks great on an application and you learn things you’ll use the rest of your life,” he said. “Instead of spending money on doing plumbing or something, you can just do it yourself. There are just so many opportunities from it.”

He said Birko—who makes sure the students rotate jobs so they continually learn new skills—comes to the students with news about job openings nearly every day.

Those in the business agree that the need for skilled trades is huge.

Realtor Frank McVeigh said it’s difficult for a homeowner to find a tradesperson to come in and do even simple tasks.

“If they need minor carpentry issues, if they need a mason, if they need an electrician, there’s such a huge shortage,” he said. “Just yesterday, we were dealing with a situation where a contractor couldn’t get to a job til September … We’re just in such a dire need from new construction right up to helping people maintain their homes for tradespeople, and that’s what these students are becoming.”

He said the workmanship and materials in the home are equal to that of a house costing twice as much.

“It’s because it’s a classroom,” he said. “It’s not built as a product for sale. We certainly have to be concerned about selling it, but the students must have the learning experience of working with different types of material.”

The house features all kinds of such quality products that produce a custom feel, he said, because it’s essentially a classroom.

In addition to home building/construction trades, AAPS’ CTE programs include 10 other programs, including automotive service; business, management & administration; and cosmetology services.
According to the National Association for CTE:

  • High school students involved in CTE are more engaged, perform better and graduate at higher rates.
  • 81 percent of dropouts say relevant, real-world learning opportunities would have kept them in high school.
  • The average high school graduation rate for students concentrating in CTE programs is 90.18 percent, compared to an average national freshman graduation rate of 74.9 percent.
  • More than 70 percent of secondary CTE concentrators pursued postsecondary education shortly after high school.
Students built all houses on Earl Shaffer Court.
Students built all houses on Earl Shaffer Court.

The home will be featured at an open house on Sunday, June 28 from 2 to 4 p.m.
For more information, contact Pat Durston at 734-260-9247 or
For more about the Ann Arbor Student Building Industry Program, visit

The AAPS District News welcomes thoughtful comments, questions and feedback.

All comments will be screened and moderated.

In order for your comment to be approved:

  • You must use your full name
  • You must not use  profane or offensive language
  • Your comment must be on topic and relevant to the story

Please note: any comment that appears to be spam or attacks an individual will not be approved.


  1. My clients are selling a student built home from 1996 and have been extremely pleased with the quality of the home. This is a very worthwhile program that supports current efforts to increase training for those going into all types of hands on work.

  2. Congratulations to the district for recognizing the needs of students and translating it into a program that has a proven track record! Congratulations to the students and faculty for doing the hard work to make the program a success. As they say “Give them the right tools and they will be successful”. This program needs to be duplicated all across the country…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.