Building a House and Skills to Last a Lifetime 

Feb. 16, 2012 - Students in Cardozo High’s Academy of Construction and Design learn a trade from the ground up

Cardozo High School’s Academy of Construction and Design
Students in Cardozo High School’s Academy of Construction and Design broke ground in the fall of 2010 at a home construction site on 13th Street Northwest. A year-and-a-half later, the first-ever student-built house in the District is nearing completion.
Cardozo High School’s Academy of Construction and Design
Anndrell, a senior in Cardozo High School’s Academy of Construction and Design, measures lumber for a staircase inside the student-built house at 5734 13th St. NW.
Cardozo High School’s Academy of Construction and Design
Chester, a senior in Cardozo High School’s Academy of Construction and Design, installs an outlet in a wall at the student-built house at 5734 13th St. NW.
Cardozo High School’s Academy of Construction and Design
Herbert (left) and Anndrell (right), students in Cardozo High School’s Academy of Construction and Design, work on a staircase at the student-built house at 5734 13th St. NW.

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The last time Cardozo High School senior Anndrell McDonald entered the construction site at 5734 13th St. NW, it was a little more than a frame. It still needed siding, drywall, electrical, plumbing, and a healthy imagination to envision someone living there.

That was over the summer.

Last week and on Thursday, she returned with a handful of other students in Cardozo’s Academy of Construction and Design to continue working on the house that’s looking more like a home every day.

“I am amazed that we did this – we really did this!” said McDonald, a 17-year-old who studies carpentry in the academy. “I will bring my kids here someday and say, ‘Your mommy did this.’”

Students in the academy are building a solid foundation for the future of the city and the academy at what was once a vacant lot on 13th Street Northwest in the Brightwood neighborhood. The project, which began with a groundbreaking ceremony in the fall of 2010, gives academy students real-life experience in construction trades.

“I’ve been working on it a year,” McDonald said. “It was hard when I started. I didn’t know a lot. Now, I definitely do… There’s a lot of hands-on work that I can use in the future. I won’t need a handyman. I can do my own painting, drywall and siding.”

Cardell Torney, 18, a senior in the academy, wants to absorb as much knowledge of the construction trade as possible, so he can start his own architecture firm after college.

“Anybody can read out of a book, but it’s better to experience this first-hand,” said Torney, who believes it’s important, as the principal of an architecture firm, to know how to do every job on a construction site. “I learned a lot of skills. I was in plumbing and then moved to electrical. … I’ve been at Cardozo for two-and-a-half years and this is my first full year in the program. I wasn’t expecting any of this.”    

The Academy of Construction and Design, which opened in 2005 through a partnership between DCPS and DC Construction Trades Foundation , has had great success in helping students understand the real-world application for a variety of academic subjects, such as geometry. The academy also generates interest in careers such as architecture, construction, facilities management and electrical design.

Students in grades 10 through 12 can take training courses in carpentry, electrical, plumbing, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) and other technical specialties. The academy enrolls more than 100 students a year and has a 90 percent graduation rate.

Students apply their skills and safety training in the home-building program, while working under the supervision of licensed instructors and professional construction managers. Plans are for a 1,900-square-foot house, with three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a powder room, family room, eat-in-kitchen, deck and off-street parking. 

School officials say they hope to have the house complete and on the market this spring. Money generated from the sale of the house will return to the program. According to, three-bedroom homes in the Brightwood neighborhood are selling for about $390,000.

Shelly Karriem, director of the Academy of Construction and Design at Cardozo, said the home-building project, the first of its kind in the District, will give students nationally accredited skills that will serve them well in the future – whether they plan to enter to construction trade full-time or part-time to work their way through college.

“These kids will always be employed because these are skills that can’t be taken away,” she said. “When they walk away from here, they can walk onto any construction site and their employer can check their credentials on a national database. That’s huge.”

Craig English, who oversees Career and Technical Education in the DCPS Office of the Chief Academic Officer, said about a third of students who graduate from the program will attend college, while the others will enter the careers for which they are trained.

“The great thing is, not only does this program teach responsibility and allows them to excel in a trade, but it also gives them a chance to enter a career as a skilled apprentice” through local high-profile partners in the DC Construction Trades Foundation, English said.

The program also ensures that foundation partners have a pipeline of skilled trade professionals in the District for generations.

Next, Cardozo students will work alongside contractors from foundation partners Sigal Construction on renovating and modernizing the Cardozo High School building, Karriem and English said. While a project of that scale might seem daunting, Karriem said the home-building project on 13th Street has given students a sense of what is possible.

“Our students need to know that they can do this,” Karriem said. “This project shows them what they’re capable of if they put their minds to it. This shows the sky is the limit.”

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