Academies at Cardozo Provide Career Options

Dorothy Rowley - WI Staff Writer | 5/23/2012, 2:15 p.m.

The numbers don't lie when it comes to construction jobs held by minorities in the Washington area. Blacks sit at the bottom of the totem pole, but it's not due to a lack of jobs. Some of the issues that preclude entry include lack of qualifications, lack of access and discrimination.

To that end, one of the District's best-kept secrets is housed on the campus of Cardozo Senior High School in Northwest, where students in grades 10 through 12 learn the ins and outs of the trades that can set them on a secure career path.

"The Academy of Construction & Design is a joint venture between the District of Columbia Public School system and the D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation and it's been very successful," said Director Shelly Karriem. She added that many of the students who have completed curriculums that focus on trades like carpentry, electrical, heating and air conditioning, go on to college.

"It was an unexpected outcome, but also a welcome outcome," Karriem said. "The students are supposed to spend two years in the program, receive a certificate that would prepare them to go into the workforce to begin their careers." But as it's turned out, "two-thirds go to college and one-third [enter] the industry."

Karriem also hailed the Academy of Construction & Design as a blessing for students, many of whom lack parental guidance.

"This program has proven to be a lifeline for them. We set the bar high when they're here, but we don't let the bar go once they've taken hold of it and graduated," Karriem said. "We help them navigate through the education and career processes and assist them with scholarships during their second, third and fourth years of college."

During the day, 225 students attend the program. But in the evening, as the D.C. Apprenticeship Academy, 103 students show up to work toward their certifications.

Cheryl Rodgers, director of the D.C. Apprenticeship Academy said that after students graduate, they can work for one of the D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation's member companies like Miller & Long, M.C. Dean and D.C. Sigal.

"Once they become employed, they can go to the [D.C.] Apprenticeship Academy and take classes to get certification in the different construction trades, which include electrical, carpentry and plumbing," said Rodgers. Echoing Karriem's sentiments, she said the manner in which both academies intertwine makes them unique - particularly for the holistic approach taken to attract students.

Karriem, who previously worked with Associated Builders and Contractors of Metro Washington, explained that the Academy of Construction & Design evolved from a need among construction employers who were having problems hiring qualified workers.

"So we came up with the idea that we needed to start teaching trades at the high school level," Karriem said. "We pitched this idea to a couple of the high schools and got shot down. Then we went to the principal of Cardozo at the time - and he said, 'Absolutely, bring it to Cardozo.'"

Over the course of its seven-year existence, the Academy of Construction & Design has had its share of challenges. But the facility has still managed to be a positive force among the District's vocational offerings.