Bronx Design and Construction Academy
BRONX NY 10451 Map
Bronx Design and Construction Academy
Bronx Design & Construction Academy aims to prepare students for college while providing hands-on training in construction trades or architectural drafting. The school, opened in 2011, won’t graduate its first class until 2015, but early signs indicate it has the momentum, focus and dedicated faculty needed to succeed where other CTE (Career and Technical Education) schools have struggled.
Students follow either a CTE program or an architectural drafting curriculum (often called pre-engineering). Ninth-graders in the CTE program take classes in plumbing, carpentry, electric and the trade known as HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning). In 10th grade, they choose one of those trades as their major. Ninth-graders in pre-engineering begin with manual mechanical drafting classes, followed by computer-automated drafting (CAD) using the Autodesk Revit 3D software.
“We’re actually learning something that’s going to be put into use — majorly — in our future,” said Noel, a 15-year-old who was eagerly working to master the CAD software. “What high school student do you know who worked on CAD for four years?” Noel, who wants to be an architect, said the school has “a good environment, and it’s getting better.”
CTE classes we observed were led by knowledgeable teachers with calloused hands. In an electrical class, students paid attention to the hazards of severe shock as if their lives depended on it—which it just might. In an HVAC class, a discussion of electrical circuits was followed by hands-on work on circuit boards. Students studying drafting used computers to render mechanical illustrations.
Bronx Design and Construction (Also known as BxDCA) shares a building with Afred E. Smith High School, and Bronx Haven, a second-chance transfer school The schools share a cafeteria, small library, auditorium, gym and an impressive outdoor turf-coated football/soccer field that BxDCA founding principal Matthew Williams said was a gift from the New York Jets. Varsity sports teams draw students from the whole building.
The East Side Settlement House offers counseling. Students meet regularly in small advisory groups. Girls, who make up about 13 percent of the student body, have their own advisory groups, offering them a chance to discuss issues they may be uncomfortable addressing in a room full of boys. But most BxDCA girls “don’t seem to be intimidated,” said teacher Veronica Fettig. “They’re outnumbered, but they stand up for themselves.”
Teachers seemed dedicated and optimistic. Science teacher Gwen Kehr arrived at BxCDA in 2011 after teaching in Africa with the Peace Corps. “I never want to leave,” Kehr said. “I love our kids. They’re good kids. Enthusiastic. A lot of energy.” Kehr said she also gets strong support from the administration plus feedback from a teaching coach who regularly observes her classroom technique. Science teachers often make use of a rooftop garden (the “Green Roof”) where students may study solar power. In a 10th-grade English class, students were studying “American Born Chinese,” an easy-to-read graphic novel that explores stereotyping.
Students graduate with a CTE certification that “shaves two years off a five-year apprenticeship,” putting them closer to journeyman-level construction jobs, Williams said.
Special education: About 25 percent of BxDCA students have special needs. The school has integrated co-teaching (ICT) classes that combine special-needs kids with general education students, and feature two teachers (one of whom is certified to teach special education). But Williams said his goal is to move students out of special education classes. “We really want to get these kids mainstreamed,” he said.
Admissions: BxDCA is a limited unscreened high school. Priority goes to students living in the Bronx who demonstrate interest in the school by attending an open house, taking a tour or inquiring about the school via e-mail. Students apply for either the CTE or the architectural drafting curriculums, so it’s possible to list BxDCA twice in high school applications. (Reviewed by Skip Card, October 2012)