Microsoft has certified 7.5 million people around the world in nearly two decades, demonstrating marketplace demand for Microsoft-certified professionals. Students at Dunbar High School have show a great deal of success with the program, going on to higher education or the military after completing the Microsoft IT Academy program. Denise C. Spence, the Magnet Lead Technology Teacher at Dunbar High School in Fort Myers, Florida, shares with Getting Smart how students are leveraging Microsoft IT Academy to gain professional skills for college and career readiness.

SC: While many high school students are highly immersed in the digital world, demonstrating more savvy than most adults today, what about the program do you believe offers the most value to these gen y’s and z’s?

DS: Our Microsoft IT Academy program is preparing the next generation of student to be extremely technology savvy, ready for the Information Technology workforce, and college ready. The intense IT focused coursework allows students to delve more into the how and why technology works the way it does, while making them think more critically about IT processes and its influences on work space productivity. Our program allows students to investigate how the It world around them is constantly changing while being measured on their effective use of those technologies through industry level criteria. The greatest value that I feel that students are getting out of our IT program is a greater sense of self; students target goals, think critically about the IT tools they encounter, and learn how to collaborate on systematic processes while pursuing their personal interests.

SC: What do students report enjoying the most about the program?

DS: Students enjoy the hands-on nature of the IT courses, the professionalism of their IT instructors, and the ability to earn an industry certification credentials that indicate a readiness for both careers and colleges.

SC: How do you envision certification programs like the ones offered at IT Academy changing the landscape of college and career readiness?

DS: Students immersed in a program like we have at Dunbar, initiates an ideal that students at a young age can learn and extrapolate knowledge from the seemingly more advanced concepts being taught. If colleges and career related industries could receive an abundance of students that have developed these advanced skill sets, the colleges and the workforce can then scaffold onto that learning and produce more innovation and entrepreneurial ideals from their students.

SC: While students gain a competitive advantage from the certification, do you believe it will become mandatory for students in the future?

DS: In actuality, I believe that certification will become somewhat of a normal expectation of students. Much like a high school diploma is expected, so should we expect students to achieve some set business related standards.  Industry certification provides that means. The nation is moving towards “Common Core State Standards”, so why not include standards that are set by the industries that will be employing these students.

SC: Students in the Dunbar IT Academy outperform other students in terms of retention rates, grade point average (GPA), and graduation rates. Do you think this reflects the success of the program or the type of student who is inclined to participate in the program?

DS: The program has a cross section. We do have a good percentage of high-achieving students who are attracted to the nature of the program and its outcomes, but it also, attracts the average student and low performing student, as well. Once a student engages in the class, receives their 1st credential, they want more. Success breeds success. I believe that if you can captivate a student in the things they want to learn about , they will learn it. So, we provide an outlet for students with a great interest in IT, both advance and basic and stretch them beyond their expected potential, simply because they want to be stretched. Their interest in the IT field and career opportunities push them to achieve.

SC: What other types of technological certifications do see becoming the norm among high school graduates (i.e., coding, design, etc.)?

DS: If schools can accomplish having a variety of technology certifications at their school, then there should be industry level certifications in all areas of study. Certifications should be the “end of course” exams. Students ought to be able to perform on an exam and know that the skill set they are demonstrating, will be valued by colleges and/or the business world. Certifications seem to provide that link between learning in school and what industry expect their employees to know.

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