Two Red Wing Students Reflect on an Immersive Experience

Devonnah Nixon (l) and Alexis Parsons at Red Wing High School (photo by Sarah Whiting)

A Home Build in Florida

November 2023 was a month of firsts for classmates Devonnah Nixon and Alexis Parsons. Parsons took an airplane flight to the ocean. Nixon took part in a deep-sea fishing adventure and shared a living space with peers.

For both Red Wing High School students, it also was their first time building a home. They were among ten students and four staff who traveled to Florida as part of a Goodhue County Student Educational Adventures (SEA) program.

The district offers volunteer services trips with Habitat for Humanity as part of an all-expenses-paid reward for juniors and seniors who have applied themselves in SEA. The program aims to engage and motivate students toward graduation through immersive courses and hands-on experiences. Each SEA course, offered during the school day, includes about 15 students from Cannon Falls, Goodhue, Kenyon-Wanamingo, Lake City, Red Wing, and Zumbrota-Mazeppa school districts, serving around 50 students annually.

In addition to Habitat for Humanity builds, courses feature adventures like winter camping, kayaking, canoeing, trips to Feed My Starving Children, team-building exercises, and activities at area elementary schools.

The program is designed to inspire students who are facing challenges such as emotional dysregulation to find renewed enthusiasm for learning and to attend school regularly.

Nixon and Parsons were based in Florida for seven days, painting, installing insulation, and putting up the walls of a home. Parsons’ favorite part of the building process was installing insulation, despite itchy skin resulting from contact with the fiberglass. The team was encouraged to place notes inside the walls for the future owners, which was a particular joy for Nixon.

At one site, the group were aided in their efforts by the pending homeowner as they framed walls. They talked while inside the future closet of her child’s room. “It was nice to get to know who you’re helping,” says Nixon.

Parsons, a self-described “homebody,” says the trip was outside of her normal comfort zone. “Doing this program was pretty big for me,” she says. She found that air travel, carpentry, labor, the blazing Florida sun, and finding “stinky” seashells while combing the beach — all new things — were not as difficult as she thought they might be.

In addition to the home build work, the group went deep-sea fishing, packed lunches together to eat at the Habitat sites, and reflected on their days through journaling and group discussion.

Nixon is inspired to volunteer in the future. “It makes me want to do it again, to make someone else feel happy,” she says.