Building, destroying and rebuilding structures with Lego blocks once was a favorite activity for 17-year-old Taliyah Gould.
"I remember when I was about 5, getting up early in the morning and starting right in," said Gould, a north Columbus resident who since has parlayed the skill into more-fulfilling outlets.
Gould is further developing her manual skills at the Ohio Construction Academy, 1725 Jetway Blvd. in Columbus, near John Glenn Columbus International Airport.
"Not only am I continuing to learn skills, but it has also boosted my self-esteem so much," said Gould, who most recently attended Northland High School before discovering the Ohio Construction Academy, a community school managed by the Akron-based Educational Empowerment Group and funded through the Ohio Department of Education.
Community schools in Ohio, known nationally and in other states as charter schools, are tuition-free for Ohio students, according to the Ohio Department of Education. They're public, nonprofit, nonreligious schools that receive state and federal funds but are independent of traditional school districts.
The oldest of eight siblings, Gould said, she and her family were at a library last year when she spotted a flyer for the academy.
Gould said she was skeptical at first, but her mother called the academy and soon received a visit from principal Jennifer Johnston.
"I was so surprised. A teacher had never come to my house before, but here was (Johnston) coming to see me," Gould said. "That made we want to go."
Johnston said she was equally impressed with the homemade trellises and lattices Gould had exhibited.
"I knew she belonged at our academy," she said.
Gould is one of 42 students who completed the 2018-19 school year at the academy, which will begin its seventh year Aug. 22.
The Ohio Construction Academy is open to students in grades 9-12, or from the ages of 14-22, who reside in Franklin County and do not possess a high school diploma or the equivalent, Johnston said.
The central Ohio chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. opened the Ohio Construction Academy six years ago.
Barton Hacker, president and CEO of the chapter, said the academy was opened in 2013 in response to an "extreme fear of a future shortage in the skilled trades."
"We decided to take a hands-on approach" and open an academy, dovetailing on an adult apprenticeship program that the Associated Builders and Contractors already operated, Hacker said.
"We struggled for the first few years," he said, with 20 or fewer students each year and requiring subsidization from the ABC, Hacker said.
The academy was established to accommodate 75 students, but "we languished for the first three years and did not see the growth we anticipated," he said.
The academy partnered with several management companies before pairing with Educational Empowerment Group two years ago.
"Since then, we have continued to grow," Hacker said.
Matthew Demosky, dean of students at the Ohio Construction Academy, said enrollment is expected to rise next school year.
"We're getting calls almost every day," Demosky said, adding that 60 or more students could attend next year.
The academy currently provides carpentry and electrical training, but leaders want to expand to include masonry, plumbing and HVAC, Demosky said.
For now, the academy has two carpentry instructors and is seeking to identify a new electrician to train students.
During the school year, students spend part of the day working online to satisfy the Common Core academic requirements of the Ohio Department of Education, Johnston said.
The remainder of each day is spent honing a trade skill in a workshop adjacent to the classroom areas.
Last month, the students completed construction of a storage shed at the back of the workshop. Each student signed rafters in the structure.
With the assistance of ABC, the academy finds those students postgraduate employment.
Chinue Titus, 17, graduated June 13 from the Ohio Construction Academy and will work as an electrician for the Romanoff Group.
"I always wanted to work with my hands," said Titus, who was homeschooled before enrolling at the academy.
Current students say the academy is helping them find direction and purpose.
Skye Brafford, 16, of west Columbus said she did not thrive at a large urban school and was taking classes online before enrolling at the academy.
"I enjoy the one-on-one personal attention here," said Brafford, who is considering a job in roofing.
Kevin Spears, 17, most recently attended Reynoldsburg High School and said he hopes to use his trade skills to build his own "mansion."
"Our academy is designed to provide the same pathway to graduation as for other students, all while providing them hands-on training (in trade skills) and a career," Johnston said.