Camelot’s Excel Academy of Southwest Training Students in Construction
Like many large cities, Chicago has been a hot market for construction. That situation isn’t lost on high school students thinking about a career, including the 20 who took Excel Academy of Southwest’s construction course on remodeling and building this year.
Jamal Tillery initiated the class and teaches it because he says it’s a great fit for some Excel students.
“Everywhere you look in Chicago, a property is being rehabbed,” he said. “This is a field they can earn money in while they’re still in school. We also introduced the students to the Illinois Carpentry Apprenticeship Program. There’s a two-year waiting list, but we wanted them to experience the application process. We took them out to many different construction and building trade schools so they can see this is a field that, in some cases, can pay more than the students will make when they finish college. On top of that, they’ll start making money immediately which some of our kids need. Some of our students decide not to go to college because they need a paycheck.”
The overall program has three parts: real estate, entrepreneurship, and construction.
“We teach students the basics of real estate, information like the difference between a single home and a multi-family property – entrepreneurship, how to create a business plan and come up with business ideas, and then finally the hands-on approach in construction,” Tillery explained.
In the program, students have built kitchens, bathrooms, and a shower display. They learned how to cut tiles, lay ceramic tile on the floor and on the wall, how to cut and install hardwood floors, how to install bathrooms and appliances, how to cut a counter top, and install a kitchen sink.
“The construction program at Excel has impacted me in many ways,” said Kimmieon Hudson, a student at Southwest. “I learned a lot of things that I thought I was unable to do like install kitchens and showers, mirrors, toilets, and things of that nature.”
In addition to his role at Camelot, Tillery is a real estate broker and licensed general contractor. As a broker, he said one of his biggest fears was going to a house and seeing repairs that needed to be done and not being educated on what went into those repairs. That led him to obtain his general contractor license.
“Similarly, I knew that not knowing how to handle construction would probably be my students’ biggest fear, if in the future, they wanted to invest in real estate that needed work. In my opinion, understanding construction is one of the most important parts of real estate,” Tillery added.
As part of the course, students have taken tours of different properties and watched deals being negotiated and transacted. They were also able to meet some of the people who have invested in rehabbing properties around Chicago.
Students 15-21 years old come to Excel Academy to catch up on their studies and earn credits toward graduation. The construction course, like the robotics course the school offers, is an elective that students take every day along with their core subject classes. Camelot has emphasized job-training course options for students who want to pursue a career right after high school graduation.
An exciting trend for the program at Excel of Southwest is the growing number of girls taking the construction course. This past school year, 60% of the students in the program were young women.
“These young ladies have gotten the message this field is open to them,” Tillery said. “It’s been my experience that the girls are more detail-oriented, more focused, and they take it more seriously.”
There are requirements to earn a place in the construction course. Students must have at least a 90 percent attendance and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Tillery hopes those standards motivate students who want to take the class to do better in their regular subjects.
The program moves to the next level in September. Tillery plans to have a building or single-family home prepared for students to go outside the school and work on an existing property.