Clark County students gain an edge in technology

Three local schools offer Microsoft IT Academy

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OLYMPIA — Three Clark County schools were selected to participate in a pilot program by Microsoft, preparing students for a technology-driven workforce.

Camas High School, Clark County Skills Center and Union High School are offering the Microsoft IT Academy program, giving students the opportunity to get hands-on experience with the latest Microsoft software.

The program includes hundreds of Web-based courses on concepts ranging from computer basics to high-level programming.

Margaret Rice, dean of instruction at the Clark County Skills Center, said the program was a good fit for her school’s advanced-placement technical programs. The Skills Center is open to juniors and seniors from nine Southwest Washington school districts.

“If our mission is to prepare students to be globally competitive, then this is a huge step,” Rice said. “And it allows our campus to be a regional testing center, which is great.”

Clark County Skills Center is one of 63 similar centers in the state that volunteered to become part of the pilot phase. Its teachers were trained over the summer by Microsoft professionals.

Sherman Davis, the server administrator for Camas School District, said she attended a training session in Seattle over the summer and saw the benefit the program could offer to vocational education students.

“It’s good for students who won’t go to college,” Davis said. “We’re looking to give those kids skills they will need to get jobs right out of school.”

The academy gives students free access to Microsoft products and the opportunity to certify in programs such as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Being certified in these programs could open doors to students and prepare them for a technologically advanced society, according to Rice.

“Technology has a growing role in every area, so we need to be producing technology-advanced students,” Rice said. “Microsoft IT definitely helps with that.”

The program may also help students struggling with technology in classes now, according to Sheri Nimmo, a technology class teacher at Union High School.

“I think a lot of classes use these programs in their courses already, but they don’t necessarily cover them thoroughly,” Nimmo said. “This is a rounded education in the program. It’s a more realistic goal than learning it on the first day.”

Randy Dorn, Washington state superintendent of public instruction, said the program could bridge the gap between the world of education and the world of work, where computer skills are becoming increasingly important.

“Right now, one out of every two of today’s jobs requires some technology skills. That number will increase to three out of every four jobs in 10 years. We need to make sure our students are trained in areas that will get them jobs,” Dorn said.

The Microsoft IT Academy provides many services to instructors and students, including 1,500 online courses, Microsoft hosted Exchange email, and EduConnect, a program in which Microsoft employees volunteer in schools to help teachers and students with learning, finding careers in technology and staying safe online.

Washington was able to become the second state to implement the Microsoft IT Academy program statewide with funding from the state Legislature. The Legislature provided $4 million to the academy for the 2011-2013 biennium, an investment that provides products and services valued at approximately $30 million.

“They pay for the courses, the product licenses, everything through the state — which is really nice because it would probably be too expensive for us and we wouldn’t be able to do it,” Davis said.

Nimmo said she’s looking forward to the program, and as a technology teacher, she hopes to see more programs like it.

“If we use it well and it’s successful, hopefully it will show the Legislature that this is something helpful and something we need,” Nimmo said.