Last Friday I had the honor of attending the tenth annual D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation luncheon which was held in the intimate performance space of downtown’s The Hamilton. It was a momentous occasion because this was the first year that the program that trains high school students to be able to work in the construction industry has operated out of IDEA Public Charter School. For the past nine years the foundation had a relationship with DCPS’s Francis L. Cardozo Educational Campus. It has been about fifteen months since I last interviewed IDEA’s head of school and chief executive officer Justin Rydstrum, and he was only too happy to catch me up on the school’s progress.
“It has been a tremendous experience having these courses at IDEA,” Mr. Rydstrom exclaimed. He revealed to me that as part of the new relationship with the D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation the organization invested $500,000 in the charter school in order to take six small classrooms and turn them into four state-of-the-art learning facilities with updated air-conditioning, heating, and bathrooms. The IDEA CEO explained that about one third of his student body, or about eighty to ninety high school pupils, participate in the training program.
Another extremely exciting part of the cooperation with the Trades Foundation is that the parents get to take advantage of this course of study. Mr. Rydstrom detailed that there are classes for adults four nights a week. In addition, the Memorandum of Understanding between IDEA and the Foundation provides for an additional teacher and a director. Next year an extra half-time instructor will be added. Examples of some of the classes that are offered include architecture, carpentry, design, electrical, HVAC, and plumbing.
It was then time for me to meet others in the room. The first individual I ran into was former DC Public Charter School Board chairman Tom Nida. Mr. Nida remarked that an interesting aspect of the D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation is that its board of directors, upon which he serves, includes representatives from the leading builders in the nation’s capital. For example, Mr. Nida pointed out, the effort is led by Foundation president John McMahon who is also the chairman of Miller and Long Concrete Construction. Of course, as Mr. Nida revealed, the advantage of this board composition is that when these students graduate from IDEA they are practically guaranteed jobs because the market is so tight for people with the skills being taught at the charter. The former PCSB chair stated that another fascinating aspect of all of this is that women now make up half of all enrolled students.
Representing the PCSB on this day was Steve Bumbaugh. I asked him how the things were going on the board. “You know,” he asserted without hesitation, “I really believe that the board is approaching its third phase.” The first phase, Mr. Bumbaugh opined, involved simply opening charters. He went on to detail that the organization, under Scott Pearson, then went on to transition to a focus on openness and transparency it its operations. The third phase, Mr. Bumbaugh, believes, involves equity. He asserted that we have to figure out how to provide the same level of educational quality to those living in poverty as we do for those kids who are better off financially.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Shelly Karriem, the program director of the D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation. She has been in this role since 2006. Ms. Karriem spoke passionately about the changes and growth the program has experienced in her ten years in her position. But mostly she wanted to talk to me about how fortunate she feels to be at IDEA PCS. She highlighted the fact that everyone, from Mr. Rydstrom to the school’s faculty to the students, have welcomed her staff with open arms. She is excited that the scholars have shown such a high level of respect for the courses and the physical space. The program director expressed that, as the daughter of a handyman and as a past educator herself, she now feels like she is really home now that the foundation is operating out of this charter school.
The schedule for the event was filled with awards and scholarships to students who have demonstrated qualities such as an outstanding character, competence, good citizenship, competitive spirit, and a drive to meet every challenge. These traits were certainly expressed by the tenth grader I was introduced to by the name of Donovan Cayard. After his firm handshake, Mr. Cayard handed me a business card with his name on it, the title of the program, and the year of his graduating class. Looking me straight in the eyes this student boasted about how happy he was to be studying construction. Mr. Cayard confidently expressed that he would like to go to college one day but that his studies in computer design provides him with a trade he can practice as a profession and one that “in the future allows me to be a better person.” I believe in that one sentence Mr. Cayard has expressed everything you need to know about the D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation.