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TRADING SPACES: Move to IDEA PCS Breathes New Life
Into Academy of Construction & Design
By Arnesa A. Howell


A CUT ABOVE The ribbon-cutting ceremony at IDEA PCS with (from left): DCSCTF COO Carol Randolph, Miller & Long Chairman John McMahon, D.C. Council Member Yvette Alexander, IDEA Principal Lanette Bacchus and IDEA PCS Board Chairman David Owens.

A massive poster stretches across the side of the school. On it, are the words signaling a new direction in learning: “Build your career at IDEA with the Academy of Construction and Design.” It’s the “sequel” for a program aimed at bringing skilled trades to young people throughout the District, and particularly to those living in Ward 7.

This Academy, thank you for moving over to Ward 7,” said D.C. Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), hailing IDEA Public Charter School as an ideal pick for relocating the program formerly housed at Cardozo Education Campus. “We need options for our students here. You can still go to college an have an additional skill that works.”

Alexander joined IDEA, D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation, D.C. Public Charter School Board, and city government leadership Nov. 4, 2015, to unveil the Academy of Construction & Design in its new home. “This is the sequel, and we’ve got some new players,” declared Shelly Karriem, director of the Academy of Construction & Design.


Starting in ninth grade, students enrolled in this career and technical education program are exposed to nontraditional classroom skills in electrical, carpentry, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Instructors teach students technical studies in math and science, and other areas that come in handy in the field of construction.

“We have to offer every option to our young people,” continued Alexander. “These are skills that will last for a lifetime – it’s exciting the potential this Academy will give you.”


The Academy’s move expands the program by offering instruction in architectural design, which is already part of IDEA’s curricula. Furthermore, in anticipation of the program’s arrival, the D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation and its partners transformed 10,000 square feet of space at IDEA from six outdated classrooms into state-of-the-art trades classrooms and a construction lab, according to Justin Rydstrom, head of school at IDEA. “Estimates are that this is probably worth a half a million dollars in renovation, for which IDEA did not contribute anything,” Rydstrom said. “We couldn’t be more thankful for that, [and] to the Foundation and their leadership, led by John McMahon at Miller & Long.”


Real World 101
Students dressed in crisp Junior ROTC uniforms greeted a steady flow of guests entering IDEA Public Charter School in Northeast. Ahead of the official ribbon-cutting ceremony, attendees filled seats of the “renewable energy” classroom – in eyeshot of one of the technical classrooms filled with specialty equipment, like an electrical workstation. The crowd also included students, many who are being exposed to the skilled trades for the first time through this program.

Anthony McGill, enrolled in the Introduction to ACAD class, is still deciding what area of the trades he will pursue. In the meantime, he’s enthusiastic about the hands-on training the program will provide.


A BRIGHT ‘IDEA’ Students turn out for the grand opening celebration of the Academy of Construction & Design.

“We get to work hands-on, that’s the best part,” said McGill without hesitation. Although his first love is football, he chose to enroll in the program as a safety net that could give him a jumpstart in work experience after high school. He’s also anxious to get started on the Youth Farmer’s Market, expected to launch this spring. There, Academy students are planning to grow and sell fresh fruits and vegetables to the surrounding Deanwood community. They will also provide fresh food alternatives to the school. Another of McGill’s goals: to work on the micro-house, which on this day, is parked in the school’s back lot.

“We’re gonna put it together and build it with all my peers. That’s very exciting,” said McGill, 15. “I’m just looking forward to how it’s gonna look when it’s finished.”

“That’s who we’re after, a kid that age to get their head in the game,” explained John McMahon, president of the D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation. Working together with IDEA and its staff – both of which have been “all welcoming” of the Academy into its academic fold – brings together complementary disciplines that are mutually beneficial, particularly for the students. “What’s unique here are the existing programs – the [Junior ROTC], the architectural design – it’s like putting on two gloves that totally fit,” said McMahon.

And IDEA leadership agrees. David Owens, chairman of the IDEA Public Charter School Board of Trustees, is among those who’ve embraced this concept for learning that aims to benefit both students and community. For one, said Owens, adding the Academy aligns with IDEA’s overall mission, which includes preparing students for opportunities after high school – college, military and now the chance to learn marketable trade skills.

“This will [add] a vital part to our school, to give our students three different pathways that they can take to be successful in life,” said Owens, standing a few feet from the micro-house. Participating in a trades-centric program will personally and professionally benefit students, according to Owens, who himself has a background in engineering. As students work on the tiny house and prep to launch the farmer’s market, they will be able to follow projects from concept to implementation, and experience real world applications. And if they graduate and decide to pursue a trade as a formal career, he continued, they’ll ultimately have an opportunity to make “a very, very nice salary.”


TINY HOUSE, BIG DREAMS ACAD students have completed the exterior of the micro-house project. Next step, building out the interior.

Teaching ‘Grit & Stamina’
But career and technical education in the District’s schools hasn’t always had an easy path. Lanette Bacchus, principal of IDEA, acknowledged that construction and the skilled trades have historically had a negative connotation because of their link to blue collar jobs. But that perception is changing, marking a “new day.”

“There are other skills that students can possess and be professionals. There is value in working hard and being part of rebuilding the community,” explained Bacchus. She stressed that the Academy will not only teach students the technical component of a career, but also “grit and stamina” in an age of instant gratification.


ON DUTY, ON BOARD IDEA Principal Lanette Bacchus gives kudos for the Academy opening more doors to students.

Education Renovation
The new space will also house the D.C. Apprenticeship Academy, a construction apprenticeship program for adult learners. “This city went in the wrong direction when it de-emphasized apprenticeships,” said Scott Pearson, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, during the ceremony, noting that apprenticeships, trade schools and career academies are essential to the college and career discussion.

Together, these two academies will continue to provide hands-on learning experiences aimed at sharpening minds inside – and outside – the classroom. For some, that will translate into a career where they can support themselves and their families. And for others, like 18-year-old IDEA student Diamond Buford, it’s about reaching for more than what she could have imagined: “It’s a chance to see career possibilities coming to light.”






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