In the midst of learning technical skills that will help them succeed in the trades, the students in Cardozo High School’s Academy of Construction & Design (ACAD) are gleaning lifelong lessons that apply no matter what career path they choose to take.

The academy, made possible by the D.C. Student Construction Trade Foundation (DCSCTF), provides elective courses that teach NCCER-certified technical curriculum to students in grades nine through 12, and puts those lessons to the test with hands-on training in carpentry, electrical and HVAC. The program also exposes students to architecture and design, renewable energy and sustainable building practices, construction safety and blueprint reading.

“The program really helps the students who want to go into the trades and gives them hands-on experience before entering the workforce,” says Treymane Chatman, a senior at Cardozo High School who hopes to join the construction industry in the carpentry trade after graduation. “Most students never really thought about construction as an option before this class, but now we know what to expect.”

Adds fellow senior Aunye’e Waller: “This program gives you opportunities to expand your career interests. Construction doesn’t just involve the jobs in the field.”

The DCSCTF was established in 2003 by a dedicated group of business, community, school and faith-based leaders who were seeking to help youth in Washington, D.C., focus on getting an education while addressing the difficulty many construction companies were having recruiting, hiring and retaining skilled employees. 

About a dozen members of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) serve on the foundation’s board of directors and executive council, which collectively make annual financial commitments and provide the major source of operating income for ACAD and its programs.

Over the years, participating companies have provided internships, field training and job placement opportunities that directly benefit both work- and college-bound students.

“The industry support has been phenomenal,” says Sheldon Shapiro, CEO of Shapiro & Duncan Mechanical Contractors, Rockville, Md. “At first, we saw this as a way to get kids excited about the trades, but now many of them are going to college when they never dreamed that it was an option, which is another great outcome. Sometimes, all these students need is a push and a purpose.”

ABC National got involved with the group in January 2014, with staff taking recurring trips to the school to mentor the students, help develop their networking and interviewing skills, and teach ways to leverage the skills learned in the academy on their résumés.

ABC CEO Mike Bellaman spoke about facing adversity and making positive choices. Other sessions included résumé and cover letter writing tips and using social media professionally. In one of the weekly sessions, the foundation organized a speed networking event where the students had three-minute mock interviews with representatives from ABC member companies and ABC National. The exercise helped the students prepare for interviews and professional settings as they head off to college or enter the workforce.

“No matter the path they choose to take, they leave here equipped with the skills they need to succeed,” says DCSCTF’s Beth Moore.

In addition, each year the foundation holds an annual “Meet the Future” luncheon that gives ACAD students a chance to network with and learn from industry leaders in the Washington, D.C., area. During the luncheon, the Norman Dreyfuss Scholarship is given to select graduating seniors who are entering building industry jobs or enrolling in colleges or universities. Students who submit an application and an essay about their educational experiences in the academy are eligible to compete for cash awards that recognize outstanding academic performance, technical skill development and good citizenship in the Cardozo community. 

Through its nearly 10 years of programming at the academy, the foundation has seen the powerful and lasting effect mentoring can have on students’ motivation and success. With the help of industry professionals, DCSCTF aims to create and inspire a  broader definition of student achievement.


Donna Puglisi is public relations manager of Associated Builders and Contractors. For more information, email puglisi@abc.org.


ABC Members Involved
Balfour Beatty Construction
Boston Properties
Clark Construction Group, LLC
Donohoe Construction Company
Facchina Construction
Hensel Phelps Construction Company
MDavis Inc.
MCN Build
Magnolia Companies
Shapiro & Duncan Mechanical Contractors
Sigal Construction
WCS Construction, LLC