Students at Limestone Community School partner with Tenants to Homeowners for upcoming educational event about affordable housing

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Tenants to Homeowners and Kansas City-based Multistudio partnered with Limestone Community School to help bring a student project to life: building homes for people experiencing homelessness. Students at Limestone worked with Multistudio to design the homes last year, and one of them is currently being constructed at 1208 E. 13th St.

For the kids at Limestone Community School, understanding the need for affordable housing isn’t rocket science.

Over the course of more than a year, the school’s second and third grade students have been studying ways to get more people in the community into secure housing. They’ve learned about zoning and land acquisition, drawn their own floor plans — and thanks to a partnership with Tenants to Homeowners, a professional version of one of their designs is actually being built.

The students are even prepared to help their much older neighbors learn a little more about the topic. Along with Tenants to Homeowners, the students will host “Affordable Housing 101,” an educational speed dating-style event focused on affordable housing, at the Lawrence Public Library Thursday from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

At the event, students will host seven “education stations,” each focusing on a different part of their original research on current practices, challenges and potential solutions to the issues surrounding affordable housing in Lawrence and Douglas County. They’ll also host a next steps panel discussion and Q&A session.

If that all sounds like an incredible lift, it’d be news to Madeline Herrera, the co-founder and director at Limestone. The Journal-World spoke with Herrera about the school’s partnership with Tenants to Homeowners last week, and she made it clear that Limestone more often than not puts the students in the driver’s seat.

“It’s been a really amazing experience,” Herrera said. “I’ve worked in education for over a decade, and every single time that the students I get to work with come up with an idea or come up with something that they want to really dig into, I am always blown away. … It’s always amazing to me, it’s always so exciting to me, because you don’t know where the kids are going to take it. You can’t fully understand the ripple effects of their actions. It’s what I wish more of my schooling had been.”

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The relationship between Limestone and Tenants to Homeowners isn’t new. It actually began more than a year ago in January 2023, when Herrera’s students were in first and second grade. The school is modeled around “project-based learning,” the process of students exploring an open-ended question or problem. Under that model, students read, conduct interviews and investigate a topic until they have enough information to start coming up with some tangible solutions, which they then present to an audience.

Herrera started by reading the students a book about imagination, hoping it’d spark their next project — and it did.

“The kids decided that they wanted to explore the question ‘What if everyone had a home?'” Herrera said. “What followed was a 20-minute rapid-fire brainstorm session. The kids were so excited, they were up out of their seats jumping up and down, so excited about exploring this idea. And they decided that they were going to build homes for people experiencing homelessness.”

The information-gathering phase of the project-based learning process soon followed. The students decided they’d first need some land, but quickly learned about challenges like needing the proper zoning and the differences between renting and owning a property after first suggesting the field on the school grounds as a suitable location to build.

Then, they came up with a list of people they’d need to contact to learn more about the process of building a home, like someone to explain how to design a building.

Herrera said part of her teaching philosophy is taking the work as far as the kids want to take it, so she did some reaching out of her own. One person she contacted was Steve Vukelich with Multistudio, the Kansas City-based firm behind the redesigned Lawrence Public Library and a co-designer of the University of Kansas’ “Gateway District.”

Vukelich and a team of architects came to Limestone each week for months to help the students learn how to design homes, Herrera said.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

A couple posterboards at Limestone Community School are covered in various souvenirs from an affordable housing project completed by students last year. One of them is pictured here, a photo of a student’s hand-drawn floor plan for an affordable home.

But once they’d learned the ropes, the class needed to complete their process by giving a meaningful presentation. Herrera decided to call up Rebecca Buford, the director at Tenants to Homeowners, hoping that the nonprofit might be interested in hearing from the class. Instead, Buford was ready to offer up a couple of plots of land to actually build their homes, sight unseen.

With Multistudio already on board to create professional versions of their home designs, the process continued. Today, one of the students’ homes is actually under construction at 1208 E. 13th St.

“It’s been a really amazing partnership,” Herrera said.

photo by: Multistudio

This rendering shows a view of an affordable home designed by Kansas City-based Multistudio, based on the original designs of students at Limestone Community School.

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As a result of their project last year, Herrera said her students came to some realizations, including that they had their own biases about affordable housing and what it means to be unhoused. Some students had opened up to their peers about their families’ experiences with homelessness, and Herrera said learning that someone who works as a teacher, for example, could qualify for affordable housing was an “earth-shattering” revelation for some students.

That made the kids think that it must be likely that some adults may have misconceptions about the topic, too, which Herrera said led to this year’s project.

The Journal-World sat in on Herrera’s class for a bit while visiting Limestone last week and got to hear directly from the students behind the upcoming event. Some of them talked about how the topic has brought about “strong feelings,” and others stressed that the issue of affordable housing is one in need of more awareness.

Herrera said at the event next week, attendees should expect to learn about the current lay of the land of affordable housing in Lawrence and the reasons why housing has become less affordable. Students will also highlight “innovative solutions” happening around the country, along with local initiatives taking place through the city and county government, nonprofits and individual community members.

“They really want to help people feel empowered to walk away and know what they can do to help, so there will be a little session on (what they call) ‘Right here, right now’ — what can you do as an individual to help?” Herrera said. “… They feel like that’s the best chance to get people involved, instead of ‘You’ve learned this (and that’s it).’ It’s funny, because it’s like our model of learning here at school. You learn it all, and then you take some action.”


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