Skip to content

ACAD: A Nod to Success

By Arnesa A. Howell

From its beginnings in 2005, the Academy of Construction and Design has measured its success through the students who have pushed through the sweat — and sometimes tears — to come out on the other side as graduates of the career and technical education (CTE) training program. The latest Meet the Future Luncheon introduced guests to the Academy’s storied journey from then to now through a video presentation titled the “History of ACAD.”

The D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation launched ACAD to rejuvenate a new interest in CTE in the District as a “viable pathway to work, college and careers,” said Shelly Karriem, director of the Academy of Construction and Design, in a video montage.

It’s a sentiment reinforced by John McMahon, founder and president of the Foundation, who stressed the training as a fundamental within education. “As soon as they work with their hands, their other subjects suddenly start making sense,” he said in a segment. Subjects like geometry come alive and students begin to excel in school, he noted, and they start realizing the many possibilities — whether that’s going into the construction field or being college bound.

The program emphasizes a hands-on curriculum that builds skills and gives opportunities to work on location with industry professionals, Karriem continued. It’s an important aspect of the program that supporters agree keeps students involved and on a learning pathway.

“I just have been so impressed with how hard these kids work, how hard and devoted the educators and leaders of the program work … it just makes you feel good that you can help somebody get to the next level,” said Norman Dreyfuss, COO and executive vice president of the IDI Group Companies, a longtime supporter of the Academy through endowed scholarship awards named after him.

Academic success is a foundation of this program, which teaches trade and life skills to every student that enrolls. With over 90 percent of its seniors graduating, according to Karriem, the Academy and its team of educators are actively engaging these students, building confidence and preparing them for the next phase of their lives. And the building community has been a big part of this success, noted McMahon. “They know that we’re doing something that works, and they automatically want to be part of it,” he said.

This year, community partners contributed over a quarter-million dollars to the D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation, with funding helping “more high school students gain financial confidence by putting them on the path to employment, higher education, diverse careers and entrepreneurship opportunities in today’s building industry,” Karriem said. Looking back, ACAD students have already done so much — from helping build homes in Jamaica to constructing tiny houses in their own backyards in neighborhoods like Deanwood. Indeed, said Karriem, “ACAD students have done it all.”

The future pathway for ACAD students remains bright, and there is still much left to accomplish.