February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month. We’ll be celebrating with some unique program features within our schools!

Haoua Tall, a junior from West Philadelphia High School, designed, sketched, and decorated a room for “clients” who had requested a music room that would combine their talents. Last January, Tall experienced this piece that she had designed and created using a virtual reality tool, Planner 5D.

This hypothetical case study was part of Architectural Design & Drafting, a Career and Technical Education (CTE) program at West Philadelphia High School. In this program, the only one of its kind in the district, students develop plans for buildings and other structures using a variety of building materials and creative layouts and designs. Students use and apply the knowledge, skills, and principles that underpin the field of architecture and have access to industry-standard AutoCAD and Revit computer programs, as well as a 3D printer and build space.

“It was a really cool opportunity to see the actual space I designed right in front of me,” Tall says. “I’ve always loved decorating and designing, so I thought why not be part of this program.”

Although Tall’s current plans are to go to college for pre-med, she’s excited to use what she’s learned about lighting and space to help create an environment conducive to the health care environment.

“With the amount of time we spend indoors, we want to spend our time in places that are healthy and where we feel good,” says Jessica Villanueva-McCollum, who teaches architectural design and drafting. “A lot of the apps I teach about interiors and architecture can help improve the way people work and the way people move through a space.”

Villanueva-McCollum says the program combines a lot of soft skills and rigor with networking and industry partners so students can take what they learn and apply it to a variety of fields. The program also engages students in fun, hands-on projects like the Gingerbread House Contest, where students design new buildings using gingerbread.

Villanueva-McCollum came to West High School after spending 15 years in the industry. She turned to teaching architecture after attending a graduate school of interior design. She had previously earned an undergraduate degree in fine arts.

“I’ve always been creative and artistic, but I was also drawn to the technical side of the arts, so I wanted to do something that combined the two, which is what architecture does,” she says. “It’s the perfect mix between creativity and technique.”

She turned to teaching in order to help expose more students to careers in architecture.

For Ashante Williamston-Barton, a graduate of West Philadelphia High School in 2020, he continues the work started for him in high school.

“Before I went to high school, I felt like that was what I wanted to do. I always loved building when I was little, so I saw it as an opportunity to take a step forward. ‘forward,’ says Williamston-Barton, who is currently a sophomore in architecture at Temple University.

“Everything I do now at Temple is what I already learned in high school. Knowing how to use all the software and programs helped prepare me to get here.

Architectural Design and Drafting at West Philadelphia High School also connects students with industry and scholarship experts through partnerships with Aramark, CREW Greater Philadelphia, the Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships, and PhilaNOMA.

For more information on the program, visit their website.