By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
Lemar Storey was hesitant at first about enrolling his 13-year-old son, Jaiden, at a “nontraditional” school, where the focus is as much on workforce development as on academics.
“It was a hard decision,” Lemar said. “Actually, Jaiden always wanted to work in construction, so when I found out about this program, that was big for us. He can get started on his dream now in high school.”
Welcome to Ensley’s Build Urban Prosperity (Build UP) school.
Located in an old double-shotgun-style house next to P.D. Jackson-Olin High School, Build UP Ensley is different from most schools because it ties in homeownership, workforce development, and academics as part of a six-year curriculum through which students earn both a high school diploma and an associate degree. It also enables students to build, repair, and maintain homes in the neighborhoods where they live.
Lemar said he is nervous about the new school, but he knows that several people support it, which helped.
“Many people believe in this program, and we believe in revitalizing our own neighborhood,” he said. “We’re prayerful that this program works and [Jaiden and other students] can go on to complete it with all the promises involved.”
Lemar said Jaiden is ready, even though he will be leaving his friends at Cornerstone High School in East Birmingham.
“We wanted him to make the decision,” Lemar said. “We told him about all the promises made for the program.”
Jaiden said he’s excited to take classes that interest him: “I think it’s good for students to know [about their careers] before they graduate. Teachers [sometimes] don’t teach us everything we want to learn at a regular school. Some of the things we learn, we don’t use it in our future.”
Jaiden was among the students who worked this summer with the Build UP program, which helped construct housing in the Ensley community. He was paid for his labors.
“I liked making new friends and meeting new people. I liked making money and showing off to my friends,” he said with a laugh. “I can’t wait until the school year starts.”
Other families are looking forward to the school year, as well.
Sharon Davis enrolled her son, 15-year-old Jomaree, in Build UP Ensley after learning about the program through McAlpine Park in East Birmingham, where the program was hosted this summer.
“We already do nonconventional education anyway. We have been part of a homeschool co-op,” Sharon said. “I’m excited about this. I’ve always thought there should be something like this in the community. … This is going to be a success. I’ve always wanted my children to be the best and be productive members of society and give back to the community.”
Jomaree said Build UP Ensley wasn’t what he expected when he participated in programs this summer.
“It actually came out great [because] I’ve been in a nontraditional school before,” he said. “This is going to be different, but I think I can work with it.”
Felecia Davis, whose son, Andria Rowser, 14, will attend Build UP Ensley, said he would have attended Center Point High School had he not enrolled.
Felecia said Andria was unsure about the program, so she enrolled him in the summer program, and he liked it; she hopes her son can become more proficient in math.
“He was kind of struggling, and I want them to bring him to where he needs to be,” she said.
Angela Taylor enrolled her son, Torrey Washington, 16, because it offered him more of an opportunity to grow and learn both sides of homeownership—the building and the business. He previously attended Jackson-Olin High School.
“We felt that the dual enrollment of a high school and college education [at Build UP Ensley] was an overall better option,” she said.
Angela also likes the smaller classroom settings: “It’ll be more one-on-one, and he’ll be able to learn at his level. There were some things he already knew but had to take again, so he was doing it halfheartedly.”
Classes are expected to have between 22-25 students.
Angela said Torrey likes to write books, and he would get more help with his interests at Build UP Ensley.
“They’re not only preparing him for business, he’s preparing for college,” she said. “He’s getting more life lessons from the guys who are mentors. He likes learning to work as a team with the other students. He feels like he’s getting more out of it instead of just going through the motions of the day.”
Anquanetter Johnson’s daughter, 16-year-old Ke’R Johnson, will attend Build UP Ensley after leaving Minor High School. Anquanetter said she likes that her daughter can get more attention from her teachers.
“Ke’R loves the teachers,” Anquanetter said.” That’s what caught her eye. … They spend so much time with her, and she’s excited about it.”