As new high school graduates, young people expect advice: Work hard. Make the most of your opportunities. Stay focused. But as the Class of 2017 prepared to become alumni of the Academy of Construction and Design (ACAD), one word resonated above the rest: passion.
You gotta know what you want to achieve and how to get there. It takes passion,” said Fred Smoot, former cornerback for the Washington Redskins, at the 11th Annual Meet the Future Luncheon on May 12 at the Hamilton in Washington, D.C. As he strode back and forth across the stage, Smoot reflected on his past challenges and offered guidance to the graduating seniors and underclassmen gathered for this year’s awards ceremony. The soon-to-be former students of the Academy took note.
Graduating senior Joshua Rice smiled broadly as he shared that this fall he will be enrolling in Coppin State University in Baltimore, Md., where he plans to pursue studies in criminal justice. He focused on architectural design at the Academy, and urged incoming students to be enthusiastic about the program and the skills they would be learning.
“You have to have a passion for it,” said Rice, clutching an award he won during the ceremony. “And you have to love it before you do it.”
Stick-to-it-ness is what brought Rice and his fellow graduates to this day, when they and underclassmen were honored for academic achievement, personal character and leadership. This marks the second year for the program at IDEA Public Charter School and 11 years for the Meet the Future luncheon, hosted by the D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation (DCSCTF). The training program has been lauded for teaching young people skills in carpentry and other skilled trades used in construction, as well as incorporating training in landscaping and architectural design.
“College is not always the next right step for each of our scholars. I am pleased that they have the example of the construction trades as a route to post-secondary access,” said Justin Rydstrom, head of school at IDEA.
He said students have consistently expressed enthusiasm over meeting and working with the trades people who lead the Academy. “As an educator, I’m thrilled to see how excited our students are with hands-on learning and meeting people who are making a good living with these skills,” Rydstrom said.
Meanwhile, Justin Sullivan, chairman of this year’s luncheon and president of Impact Construction and Consulting, touted the importance of the Academy, urging professionals in the room to “enable our teachers and administrators at ACAD to grow this program so that these young men and women can sustain our future.”
Paving the Way
Surrounded by industry leaders across construction, architecture and skilled trades contracting, students were at the heart of the annual luncheon. Early in the event, a video montage showcased ACAD students interacting with middle schoolers, sharing their hopes and dreams for the future, and reflecting on the unique learning experiences offered by the program.
“IDEA is a school that has ACAD as a class where you can learn how to work the tools … build houses and things that you can use later in life,” said Makiya Johnson, a sophomore enrolled at the Academy.
Current ACAD students also got the chance to introduce the program to younger students like Malachi Holsten who are interested in attending the public charter school in Northeast D.C. “I never got to work with wood, and nails and stuff, because it was a little too dangerous,” Holsten admitted with a hint of excitement. “I learned about three new tools: the compound miter saw … different types of nails and a staple gun.”
Construction industry leaders were also learning about the next generation to embrace career and technical education. “[This is] an example of younger voices telling older ears what they hope to accomplish,” said Carol Randolph, moderator of the luncheon and chief operating officer of the D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation, in introducing the video.
As part of its ongoing efforts to show District students the “many roads to success,” the Meet the Future luncheon recognized those standout student scholars across all classes – who were either graduating in 2017 or continuing their specialized studies within the Academy the next academic school year – with a series of awards and prizes.
The Norman Dreyfuss Scholarship fund, named after the COO and executive vice president of the IDI Group Companies, has awarded more than $52,000 since 2009. Norman Dreyfuss also serves as a D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation Executive Council member.
This year’s winner of the Norman Dreyfuss Scholarship was Steve Cheuko, a graduating senior who in 2016 took special honors during the ceremony for his academics and leadership. In announcing the winner, the D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation Program Director Beth Moore praised Cheuko for being a “focused, industrious and self-confident honor roll student who takes pride in his work.” The scholarship came with a $2,000 award, which Cheuko plans to use for college.
“I will pay for my tuition and books,” said Cheuko, 19, who has been accepted to George Mason University in Virginia. “Computer science – that is the major that I’m looking forward to.”
He credited the Academy for teaching him the benefits of hard work, perseverance and respect. And academically, he is looking forward to merging the architectural design and software skills honed at ACAD with the newfound skills he expects to learn as a computer science major. Still, he acknowledged that college isn’t the path for everyone. That is the value in the alternatives offered by the Academy, where there is an emphasis on construction as a career option.
“Construction [programs] should be implemented in all of the high schools in Washington, D.C.,” Cheuko stressed. “If you want to go into construction, you have to be ready, you have to [be] on time … and be hard working.”
Seven students across four classes – freshman through senior – received accolades from the Sigal Family Foundation, endowed in 2013. They were honored for being “outstanding” students who “exhibit character, quiet competence, good citizenship and competitive spirit, and the drive to meet every challenge,” said Shelly Karriem, director of the Academy of Construction and Design at IDEA.
The 2017 Sigal Scholar Award winners were freshmen Raven Carter and Khari Lyles, who were awarded laptops; sophomores Kyeon Ford and Makiya Johnson, each awarded $300 gift cards; and juniors Jarious Gooding and David Flores, who also received laptop computers. Senior Joshua Rice rounded out the list of winners. Rice received kudos for having the top attendance in the Bright Futures Bootcamp, a program dedicated to teaching career and life skills as well as essay writing. Karriem pointed out that it was not unusual for him to be sitting on the floor waiting for boot camp to start on Saturday mornings.
“This young man has presented me with so many challenges, even today. He met me at school at 7:15 this morning and I love him so,” Karriem said before announcing Rice,17, as the senior Sigal Scholar, an honor bestowed with a $1,000 award. “He has a smile on his face all the time, and he’s a dedicated architectural design student.”
After the ceremony, Rice said he may use the money for his education and is “grateful and happy” for the award.
Building Bright Futures
For the dedicated participants in the Bright Futures Bootcamp, attending weekend workshops and after-school sessions paid off. Scholars Kayla Fleming and Richard Boller – both juniors – each received a $500 award. “I wasn’t expecting to win,” admitted a surprised Fleming. She said the biggest lesson she learned from the boot camp is the importance of communication.
“If you want to start a business, [communication] is the only way to put yourself out there,” said Fleming, 16, who aspires
to pursue nursing with the ultimate goal of becoming a pediatrician and owning her own practice. Talking and networking can help you get a job and learn about opportunities, she added.
Meanwhile, fellow winner Boller is on the construction pathway at the Academy. Already in Construction II, he said that he plans to return to the bootcamp next year to continue skill building – and hopefully, win more awards. In the meantime, the 16-year-old is looking forward to starting an internship at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum this summer.
The final student award held special significance, as it honored the memory of Marshall Janifer, mentor, coach and longtime carpentry instructor at the Academy of Construction and Design. The 2017 Marshall Janifer Outstanding Student Award recognized the student with the highest GPA, fewest absences and highest participation in ACAD programs. It went to sophomore Chloe McLean, who Moore described as an honor roll student and “fast learner who challenges her teachers’ thinking as much as they challenged hers.”
The award of a laptop proved fitting for a young woman who, according to Moore, has the future makings of becoming a “phenomenal” teacher herself.
Innovator & Pathway Creator
John McMahon, president and co-founder of the D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation, has long championed bringing career and technical education back to D.C. Public Schools with the creation of the Academy of Construction and Design.
Within the program, many students have found pathways to success, underscored by those who have returned to the Academy to share their personal experiences. For the commitment he had made to seeing an idea through to fruition, the Foundation honored McMahon with a special presentation.
“You had an idea, a desire and a commitment to see it through, and without that we would not be here today,” said Moore. For his continuing support, Karriem presented the chairman of Miller & Long Concrete Construction with a customized hard hat signed by all the Academy students. Enclosed in a glass case, the black hat embossed with golden signatures, reflected the imprint he has had on the program.
As the ceremony came to a close, students rallied together to take a final walk to the stage. They took perfectly practiced steps, the processional line curving along the perimeter of the ballroom to the front of the room. Clasped in their hands, flameless candles that lit the way. But this light ceremony signified more than an ending – it symbolized the beginning for these young people of their bright futures ahead.