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RHS students acquire job-related skills with Microsoft IT Academy

Microsoft IT Academy teacher Grace Brady (left) answers a few of Hugo Baldner’s question during class. - Samantha Pak, Redmond Reporter
Microsoft IT Academy teacher Grace Brady (left) answers a few of Hugo Baldner’s question during class.
— image credit: Samantha Pak, Redmond Reporter

When Faye LaFond began the process of registering for classes for this year, the Redmond High School (RHS) senior did not have any occupational credits, a graduation requirement for the Lake Washington School District (LWSD).

As she worked out her schedule, the only class that would fit and fulfill the requirement was Microsoft IT Academy (ITA), which teaches students how to use Microsoft Office on a more comprehensive level. The class also allows students to become Microsoft Office Specialist certified in three programs: Word, PowerPoint and Excel, with the options of becoming certified in Outlook and OneNote.

“It’s been so worth it,” said LaFond about what she has learned so far, pointing out that she was not initially motivated when she first signed up for the class.

GREAT DEAL, GREAT PARTNERSHIP

ITA is a partnership with Redmond-based Microsoft Corp., the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and CCI Learning.

Keith Loeber, director of academic content for Microsoft, said ITA provides schools with content and resources to help students learn technology skills required in the global job market.

“From productivity skills to computer networking and software development, the IT Academy program provides curriculum educators can use in different learning models to help students acquire job-related skills,” he said.

The program is available to every public high school in the state for free, with OSPI contributing $2 million per year and Microsoft paying for the rest — $20-30 million, according to OSPI communication manager Nathan Olson.

“It’s a great, great deal,” he said.

Loeber added, “Microsoft is proud to be partnering with OSPI and the state of Washington to offer needed technology skills to students.”

ITA is available in more than 15,000 schools in 130 different countries throughout the world.

Olson said the program was first offered in Washington schools during the 2011-12 school year and allows students to study and become certified for free. He said prior to ITA coming to the state, in addition to having to pay, testing was only available in certain areas. Now, however, testing can be made available wherever there is a computer with access to the online test, so things are also more convenient.

In addition, Loeber said all Washington public libraries have access to ITA.

CCI Learning is the company that sells, manages and supports all of the pieces for ITA. This includes the subscriptions for the memberships, official exams for Microsoft Office Specialist — the certification offered at RHS — as well as Microsoft Technology Associate, Microsoft Certified Educator and Microsoft Certified Professional.

IMPROVING MARKETABILITY

Malcolm Knox, CEO for CCI, said before ITA, certifications were usually offered through colleges or commercial companies. But with Washington recognizing the importance of having these skills at an earlier age, now high school-aged students can become more proficient, efficient and faster in their work.

“It’s a fantastic program,” Knox said about ITA.

He said students will also be more competitive on the resume stack if they are certified.

Knox said on Dec. 19, there were 613 jobs in Redmond that required Microsoft skills.

Loeber said ITA provides students a way of learning skills required in the job market of today and tomorrow, and the ability to get certified further provides employers with proof of skills acquired.

“According to Pew Research Center, 46 percent of young adults ages 18-24 are currently unemployed and of those that are employed, less than half say they have the education and training necessary to get ahead in their job or career,” Loeber said. “At the same time, 25 percent of IT jobs go unfilled due to lack of training or experience.”

Loeber’s latter figure is based on the IDC study, Climate Change: Cloud’s Impact on IT Organizations and Staffing.

“The need for technology skills has never been greater,” he said. “The partnership between Microsoft and OSPI gives students the opportunity to learn valuable skills that will enhance their marketability in the global job market.”

LaFond also sees the advantage of being Microsoft Office Specialist certified when it comes to the job market. She said, in reality, there are few professions out there that do not require some sort of computer skills.

A GROWING PROGRAM

Since the program started, Olson said they went from about 4,000 certifications issued in the first school year to already 3,719 certifications so far this school year — up from 2,732 certifications during the last school year at this time. Olson said this is the number of certifications, not students, as they are able to become certified in multiple programs. He added that RHS is toward the top of the list in certifications for this year.

“They have the third most certifications in the state,” Olson said.

ITA has been at RHS since it came to Washington and is taught by Grace Brady. She said the class is offered to all grade levels, and just as the program at the state level has been growing, it has been growing at the school, as well. When it was offered the first year, there was only one section offered. Now, RHS offers two ITA sessions with 28 students in each class.

Brady said the class is quite intense and more difficult than students — some of whom have parents who work at Microsoft — assume.

“They are learning so much,” Brady said.

Knox praised Brady for the interest she takes in her students.

“She’s a superstar,” he said. “She is up there as a teacher who has taught for a long time…and she is very passionate…(she) really, really cares about the students.”

RHS freshman Anandan Lakshmi Narayahan agreed, saying his skills in the different Microsoft programs have improved since he has been in the class and credits Brady for his success.

LaFond said her skills have improved, as well. She said has become more confident in her abilities and what she is learning has become applicable as she has worked on assignments for other classes.

“It’s been super useful,” she said. “I’m glad that I was forced to take it.”

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