The Academy

Seminole Ridge High School in Palm Beach County, Florida, opened its doors to students for the first time in 2005.  Its Construction Academy, a part of the Choice programs open to all Palm Beach County students, has shown success of the program from the outset.  The Habitat for Humanity house, shown by this website, is a continuation of that program’s teaching story.

The Academy is a certified, National Career Academy Coalition program designed for students seeking a career in the construction industry immediately upon graduation and for students desiring to obtain a post secondary degree in construction-related fields.  Throughout their four years in the academy, students are taught the construction skills necessary to pass construction trades certification examinations, they receive OSHA construction safety training and obtain their “30-hour OSHA Certification Card,” they receive valuable training through actual job-site work experience, and they will plan, develop, and produce real-world construction projects.

There are approximately 150 freshman-to-senior students in the Construction Academy.  Each class of 25 to 35 students is nearly 2 hours long and meets a few times a week.  The students’ construction projects take longer to complete than in the real world since they only have class-time to build and they are being taught as they build.

From 2005 through 2010, the Construction Academy students worked with the program’s director and instructor, Rick Terkovich, a local architect, David Porter, and contractors, and subcontractors as they designed and then built an 800 SF x 20’ tall “Ticket Sales and Athletic Storage” building on the school’s campus.

The students were taught about the elements of a building’s design (function, aesthetics, construction materials, and detailing), how zoning and governmental approvals work, and how drawing details translate into real construction.
They then spent class time in the trenches and on the building pouring concrete, installing steel reinforcement, laying block, installing roof trusses, windows, doors, electrical wiring, stucco, and then painted the building and installed concrete paver brick.  Some construction got done multiple times but that was all a part of the teaching and learning experience.  The inspectors from the School District’s Building Department were an integral part of the building team and helped the students understand building codes and the building inspection process.  Mr. Terkovich obtained all of the building’s materials from donations so that the project did not cost the school district anything.

The Academy’s past experience building the Ticket Building directly on the school’s campus showed the faculty and administration that they needed to try and stay on campus for future construction projects to maintain control of the classes and the construction process. The Choice Programs department had heard about a school in the Keys that had worked with Habitat for Humanity to build a modular house in their school’s shop and then transporting it to a property owned by Habitat.  That spawned the idea of the school district working with the Palm Beach County chapter of Habitat to build a modular house here.  Habitat’s executive director, Bernard Godek, thought having the students build a house for Habitat was a remarkable idea for both Habitat, for the students’ Academy training, and to give the students a chance to give back to their community.

Habitat is providing the building lot and they will have the foundation built, ready to accept the students’ modular house components.  Habitat is also providing all of the construction materials for the students’ work.  The Simpson Strongtie Company donates all of the metal connectors necessary to tie all of the wood framed parts together to meet the south Florida wind codes.  David Porter, the volunteer architect and project manager for the Academy, donates all of his time and efforts on the design, the construction drawings, permit coordination, and continues to consult and advise with the students on the construction work.  The students will be completing the house modules up through finished interiors, including electrical, plumbing, insulation, and finished drywall.  Windows and doors will be installed and the exterior walls will be clad with a building wrap membrane to make them dry for transporting.  The Academy will build the roof with trusses in strips that they will then dry in.  These will be hauled to the property at the same time the house modules are moved.  The roof can then be put in place within a half a day and sealed to protect the completed interiors.  Habitat’s volunteers will take over, once the modules are in place on the foundation at the property, to complete the siding, roofing, joining together of the modules, installing finished flooring, building a driveway, and doing the landscaping.

Work on the house is being done by the juniors and seniors of the Academy along with some sophomores.  Each of the Academy’s different class groups have been divided into teams.  Each team for each class is in charge of all construction on their designated module.  When the next class comes in, they take over where the last class left off.  It is shift work training at its best.  Color coding of hard hats to identify the various teams was the brainchild of Bill Featherston, the GC advisor for the construction work, and it has helped to corral the students back to their respective modules to keep them working with their designated teams.  A team leader for each group is chosen by Mr. Terkovich to serve as the foreman and for quality control.  Mr. Featherson and the architect, David Porter, make periodic “job site” visits to the shop to look over the construction, advise about the next steps, and to show the students what, if anything, needs to be corrected.  The students are getting a real life construction site experience.  There are safety briefings (and reminders) and no one, including the adult advisers, subcontractors, and consultants assisting with the project, steps inside the fenced construction zone surrounding the work without wearing a hard hat, proper clothing, proper footwear, and eye protection.  Each  student has already received his/her 30-hour OSHA construction safety training and certificate as a part of the program taught by Mr. Terkovich (a certified OSHA trainer).

Successful Program

Academy Grad in College

When Mark (real name withheld for privacy) graduated from the Seminole Ridge construction academy in 2013 he enrolled at UCF to study architecture and engineering. On the first day of class the professor asked the students if anyone knew what trusses were and Mark raised his hand. Then, the professor asked if anyone knew how to set trusses?  Once again, Mark’s hand went up. The professor proceeded to ask questions about  construction and each time Mark’s hand was the only one to keep going up. Finally, the professor asked Mark, how did he know so much about construction, was his family in the construction business? Mark said “No,  I learned it at Seminole Ridge High School in the construction Academy.” He then started telling the professor about the ticket booth project he helped build at the Academy and the  2 Habitat for Humanity houses he worked on in the school’s shop. He also told him about his OSHA 10 and 30 hr construction safety certifications, as well as his NCCER core, carpentry and construction tech certification, and 3 years of AutoCAD drafting experience. His professor said he had never heard anything like that anywhere. Mark didn’t think the professor believed him, so he  told him to look at the program’s website. When he did he was really surprised. He e-mailed Mr. Terkovich and said he was really glad to see that someone was actually doing what the program is doing. He then told Mr. Terkovich that Mark was one of the very few students that he has ever had, who had the background knowledge that he has, especially, since his parents were not in the construction  business. He said it was good to see that someone is teaching the kids what they need.

Hiring Success

With the turn-around of the construction industry in 2015, the Academy saw proof in the success of the home building and teaching program.  All of the seniors, not going onto college or into the military, had multiple job offers from contractors located between Miami and Port St. Lucie.  A few students even found themselves in a “bidding war” between a few contractors.  And, with the new batch of Academy seniors a full 8 months away from graduation, inquiries from many contractors are already coming into the school to get in front of the line for interviewing and hiring the seniors.  The Academy program would seem to be working as designed and managed.

OSHA – University of South Florida OSHA Training Institute and Education Center

With the start of House #4, the Academy is pleased and proud to partner with the University of South Florida OSHA Training Institute and Education Center (USFOTI)   They will be providing their OSHA construction safety training certification for all of the Academy’s students (see more under the “Teaching, Mentoring, Support” link at the top of the page).

USFOTI will become an integral partner with the Academy and teach many different classes in the Youth Safety Construction Certification pilot Program.  Construction is a very dangerous business and the students in the Academy are reminded of that on a daily basis.  There have only been a couple of injuries during the construction of three houses and those injuries have been minor.

Some of the classes that USFOTI plans to teach are:

OSHA #7100 Introduction to Machinery and Machine Safeguarding

OSHA #7500 Introduction to Safety and Health Management

OSHA #7105 Evacuation and Emergency Planning

OSHA #7115 Lockout/Tagout

OSHA #7205 Health Hazard Awareness

OSHA #7300 Understanding OSHA’s Permit-Required Confined Space Standard

OSHA #7400 Noise Hazards in the Construction Industry

OSHA #7005 Public Warehousing and Storage

OSHA #7405 Fall Hazard Awareness for the Construction Industry

OSHA #7410 Managing Excavation Hazards