It’s not just Huffman High School, it’s “Huffman University.”
That was the name Huffman High School academy coordinator Shenik Andrews gave the Birmingham City High School when describing the Academy of Architecture and Construction Design. Each Birmingham City School has its own version of the trade program, but Huffman’s is ranked nationally for its success.
To an outsider, the hallway of the Academy of Architecture and Construction Design appears to be just like all the other numerous hallways at Huffman High School. But inside the classrooms and workshops in that hallway are teachers building the foundation of their students’ careers.
The program opens opportunities for the students, allowing them to take charge of their careers at a young age and think of other possibilities besides a four year university. A four year university may not be the perfect fit for every student, and Huffman High School works to reassure its students that other educational and work paths are more than OK.
“We’re telling the kids the truth,” Huffman High School architecture and design instructor Terence Marzette said.
Huffman High School ACE program
Huffman High School calls the program ACE, standing for architecture, construction and engineering. With the largest student body of all the Birmingham City High Schools, more than 200 students in grades 9-12 have applied and joined the program. A mix of theory and lab-based classes allow students to learn in the classroom and in a hands-on environment.
Working alongside the National Academy Foundation, Birmingham Education Foundation and Birmingham colleges, including Lawson State Community College and Jefferson State Community College, the program opens up opportunities to gain college credit and experience to go into ACE-related careers. Some of these possible careers are welding, carpentry and electrical technology. Other students go on to colleges to purse degrees in fields such as mechanical engineering.
“As a separate entity from the Birmingham Board of Education and the Birmingham City School system, we are able to be the voice of the community, to forge relationships between the school system and business and community leaders, and to provide financial support to the educational process,” Birmingham Education Foundation executive director Ashley Samuels said. “We don’t just invest in the school system. We invest in the success of students.”
Right now, the students are using what they have learned in the classroom to build a tiny house for a Birmingham family. The initial blueprints and structure of the tiny house look like they were done by professionals, not high school students. Breaking stereotypes, the construction part of the tiny house was not done just by boys. Marzette said the girls in the program were more than eager to do the heavy lifting to build the structure of the home.
Building the foundation of student careers
What stood out most about Huffman High School’s ACE program was not the success rate or opportunities that arise from the program, but the teachers. Marzette himself went through a version of the trade program when he was a student at Huffman High School in the 1990s, enabling him to get a degree in mechanical engineering after graduation. Years later, Marzette unexpectedly found himself back at Huffman High. This time he is a teacher, using the passion he has for the program and the students to give them the same opportunities he had.
Andrews said the student success is her favorite part of the program. From hugging a student while walking around the halls to talking with students in the main office, it is easy to see how Andrews cares about the well-being of her students. Andrews, Marzette, principal John Lyons and the other faculty members are passionate and loving towards their students. They are intentional about setting up the students for success due to their care for and strong relationships with the students. That is what sets Huffman High School apart.
Academies of Birmingham has a high success rate. That means most Huffman students graduate from the academy and continue with courses or the career they started in high school. However, Andrews and Marzette said it may take a few years after graduation for students to realize the benefits of the program. Marzette said it was about five years after he started teaching that a student from the program came back to the school to thank Marzette for the opportunities that the ACE program gave him. Andrews and Marzette said that they often have students come back to Huffman to thank them for the doors that have been opened due to the Academy. That is what makes it all worth it to them.