Ask anyone in America what they would expect to see when walking through an American high school, and the last thing they’d probably say is a group of students building a house! Yet that’s exactly what goes on each and every day at the Academy of Construction and Design (ACAD), located at the Integrated Design & Electronics Academy (IDEA) Public Charter School in Washington, D.C.
Late last month, the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Labor were privileged to visit this school. During the visit, several high level officials had the opportunity to see this innovative high school apprenticeship program in action.
The trip was initially arranged to help give officials insight into what makes great Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs tick in light of the President’s Fiscal Year 2018 Budget, which requests an additional $20 million to promote innovative CTE programs in STEM fields through CTE National Programs.
“We wanted to see a program on the ground,” said James Manning, Acting Under Secretary of Education. “We want to learn what is working, what challenges are being encountered, and in what ways the Department of Education might be helpful.”
Most of our nation’s apprenticeships are housed in our postsecondary education system, but we know that to truly prepare our workforce, it’s imperative that we begin at the high school level. This is ACAD’s goal.
It doesn’t feel like a traditional school — it has a business oriented environment everywhere you look. We saw a garden that the students maintained, complete with a rain water catcher apparatus that they had built themselves. We saw work rooms and classrooms that were built to educate students to engage in hands-on careers.
And that house that the students were building? It was actually the school’s second, with the goal of ultimately selling it once finished.
At the visit’s conclusion, students, administrators, and private sector supporters engaged in a discussion focusing on the positive effects of this program on students’ lives and how parents need to see CTE as an opportunity for them. Roderic L.Woodson, advisor to the DC Students Construction Trades Foundation and Partner of Holland & Knight, remarked that “too many of our young people have lost sight of the opportunity that comes with building trades and skills that will help them build a life around these careers and a future.”
And the results aren’t just academic – graduates of ACAD are already experiencing the impact that this high-quality program can have on their lives.
During the visit, officials had the opportunity to meet Treymane Chatman, a 2014 ACAD graduate who is currently a carpentry apprentice and will be moving into a full-time role within the carpentry profession later this month. Treymane shared that, as a result of ACAD, he came into the apprenticeship with the skills and knowledge to hit the ground running and handle everything he was asked to do. Treymane hopes to have a general contracting corporation one day and the skills he learned at ACAD and during his apprenticeship will help him get there.
Sam Ryan is Youth Liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education