Students in the San Marcos High School cabinetry and woodworking classes are building a cottage that will provide permanent housing to a homeless veteran.
Students build a house — and skills for their future
June 12, 2023
Behind a chain-link fence on the San Marcos High School campus sits a project that will change the life of a homeless veteran. The majority of students will never know how much time and effort their classmates poured into the project.
“Most students are unaware that a home is being built on campus,” said Dylan Ewing, a senior at San Marcos High School. “When they find out, they are surprised.”
Behind the fence is a cottage being built by students in the SMHS cabinetry and woodworking classes. The students, with the support of trade associations and apprentices, are building the cottage piece by piece. They receive general instructions from experts in the field, and then go to work.
Student Nina Crespo previously qualified for a state competition for her cabinetry work and last year worked on a shed project. This year, she is working on the cottage, the first time she has worked on a project outside of school.
“I plan on going into construction when I leave high school, so I’m trying to absorb as much as possible,” she said. “We’ve seen the plans and we have access to the tools that we need to complete this project. It will be gratifying to see the work pay off.”

The cottage is part of the Warrior Village Project, a program that provides affordable, permanent housing for homeless veterans while training the next generation of home builders. This is the second cottage being built by students at SMHS. Last March, the first dwelling was set up in the city of Vista as a temporary living space before the veterans move into a permanent home.
“The founder of the Warrior Village Project approached me, seeing if we would take on the endeavor,” said SMHS woodworking instructor Chris Geldert. “We place a lot of our graduating students in the building and construction industry through apprenticeships. I knew we would have a lot of students who would be interested in being part of the work.”
The work itself is a one-bedroom dwelling that includes a bathroom, kitchen and living space. Ewing and Crespo have been working as a team to install siding and interior fixtures. For Ewing, this type of work is in his blood.
“Our vision is every student is ready for any future they can imagine, and it’s our job to make sure they are prepared.”
— Andy Johnsen, San Marcos USD Superintendent Andy Johnsen
“I have a bit of experience in this type of work because my dad is a general contractor,” he said. “I wanted to learn more and see if I was interested, so that’s a big reason why I’m here. Plus, I get to talk to my dad about the project and he gives me great feedback.”
San Marcos USD Superintendent Andy Johnsen says this type of project fits within the strategy that the district is using to prepare its students for college and career.
“Increasingly we have students who want to explore more than a two- or four-year college program, and we want to make sure they know what is out there,” said Johnsen. “Our vision is every student is ready for any future they can imagine, and it’s our job to make sure they are prepared.”
Ewing, Crespo and their classmates have access to a workshop that would make a professional home builder jealous. Geldert says it’s all by design. Give students access to the tools they will need on a jobsite and watch them go to work.
“We want to get students involved right away,” he said. “For the students interested in going into this field, preparation can make a huge difference in earning potential and quality of life.”
Crespo says she is looking forward to seeing the final product.
“I love giving back to the community,” she said. “Seeing the progress we’ve made gives me a lot of motivation to see it through … knowing we are doing something to support someone in our community.”
Students at San Marcos High School are building a home for the Warrior Village Project, and getting exposure to the building and construction trades.
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