At the start of each school year, North Haven Community School sends its high school students off-island on an experiential learning expedition.

For this year’s expedition, students will attend a four-day timber framing course from Sept. 13 to 16 at the Shelter Institute in Woolwich and build a timber frame classroom for their campus. The experience will provide them with traditional carpentry skills as well as a new super-insulated space for future generations of students to use. The design goal is for the building to produce zero net carbon emissions. Heat will be provided by solar heated hot water and a pellet boiler, with biofuel as a backup.

During the four-day timber frame construction course at Shelter Institute, the students will learn engineering, design, joinery, layout and cutting, as well as tool selection and maintenance. At the end of the week they will return to North Haven with the Shelter Institute staff to assemble and raise the timberframe for the workshop. After the frame is up, the Shelter Institute staff will finish the remaining components of the building. The new space will house a wood shop, a workshop, and a greenhouse, providing space for boatbuilding classes, woodworking classes, alternative fuels classes, and an expanding agricultural program.

Experiential learning is a core practice for both organizations: North Haven Community School’s tradition of blending classroom education with real world experiences parallels the philosophy of the Shelter Institute. This allows the two organizations to team up for a program that will provide North Haven students with this service learning opportunity.

Service Learning is “[…] a method of teaching through which students apply their academic skills and knowledge to address real-life needs in their own communities,” according to Kate McPherson, the Director of Project Service Leadership.

North Haven High School students and staff saw the need in their community for a new workshop space and decided to meet that need with this service learning expedition.

North Haven educator John Dietter is thrilled with this year’s student expedition: “This project has so many beautiful, interlinking layers, since the students will help to create the space to support future students’ experiential learning. Shelter Institute was the ideal partner in this project; the spectrum of services they have available is amazing. We told them what we wanted to teach our students with this year’s expedition and they made it happen. Every high school student should have this opportunity.”

Blueberry Hennin, Vice President of Shelter Institute says, “Shelter Institute was founded on experiential education, our organization’s philosophy is to connect the physics of house building with the practice. It is critical that students today see the Pythagorean theorem in use so that they want to learn it. In addition, building one’s own space makes a person appreciative of the space. Our hope is that the student involvement in the project will build on the strength of the community.”

Shelter Institute has taught more that 22,000 people how to design, build and live in energy efficient homes for over 35 years. Graduates have gone on to pursue careers in architecture, engineering, construction and design. They also renovate, build or simply live more wisely in their own homes, finding that their Shelter Institute-learned knowledge is a tremendous asset that liberates them.

In addition to providing updated International Building Code information, some of Shelter Institute’s courses can be transferred to the University of Maine as general college credits. Online registration and more information are available at