The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).

Many people within the AEC field have a difficult time imagining teaching architecture and construction to high school students. In the past, vocational electives focused on preparing students for skilled trades such as plumbing, auto mechanics, and carpentry. However, recent revitalized initiatives to expand career-driven courses have firmly established career and technical education (CTE) courses as a way to prepare all students for strong careers in a variety of professions.

A key aspect of connecting classrooms to careers is providing students with real-world experience and exposure to the profession—something that is not always easy for high school teachers with limited resources and professional connections. But my personal experience teaching has shown me that the growth in interest and enrollment is well worth the effort it takes to actively engage students in project-based, work-based learning.

Bridging the Gap

Drawing students in goes beyond simply creating real-world projects in the classroom. It’s also important for architecture firms to reach out and engage their local community, creating opportunities for students to see first-hand where they could be in five to 10 years. When students and faculty have the chance to see corporate businesses that are dedicated to developing their future potential, it not only excites those in academia to teach well—it also inspires students to reach further. Presenting students with tools, a team, and a problem is a great way to watch them work together to discover innovative solutions.

Refreshing Curriculum

The challenge is to create situations where students are encouraged to reach beyond a high school diploma. By assessing the needs of the local community and how they interact with the requirements of the Architectural Experience Program® (AXP™), curriculum can be adjusted to better fit a career in architecture. The high school curriculum is expanded by moving students from textbooks to field experience.

Practicing architects and teachers must work together to incorporate real-world situations into classrooms. Through this, not only are students able to connect their education with everyday practice, but local businesses are able to give back to the community and expand their customer base by engaging with local residents.

I had the opportunity to take a group of students to a Habitat for Humanity volunteer session. The students were involved with everything, from laying down sod to shingling a roof. Seeing how each line on the sections and floor plans came to life helped validate their classroom drawings. Plus, this event required no additional funding from the school—it simply required time.

What Does This Look Like?

One way I engaged students was through our school’s administration-in-training initiative, which involved repurposing a locker room into a working “ CoLab” space. I took this as an opportunity to enable my architectural design students to take charge and collaborate on creating a new space for their school. Using the AXP's requirements as a guideline, students worked through the design process from start to finish, similar to the experience they would have working in a design firm. After presenting the final designs to faculty and staff, one team was selected and their work is currently under construction.

When you engage leaders from your school district, community, and local businesses, not only can you create curriculum that is more active and engaging—you can also help current leaders impact the leaders of tomorrow.

Wesley Livingston, Assoc. AIA, is an Architectural Designer at  LPA Inc. in San Antonio, Texas.