It's always an honor to share success stories from IT Academies around the world. Yesterday, we announced news from Kalama High School in Kalama, Washington that three IT  Academy students earned the opportunity to compete at the Microsoft Office Specialist World Championships. These three students will join six other U.S. students, along with students from 89 other countries, to prove their high proficiency in Microsoft Office software. It's a distinct honor for all of the  participants and we congratulate every student  who will compete in Washington D.C. July 31 - August 3.  

Today, I'm thrilled to introduce Katherine Schmit, the Business & Technology Instructor/FBLA Advisor at Kalama High School. Katherine, a Microsoft Certified Trainer and Microsoft Office 2010 Master Specialist, shares insights into the Kalama High School IT Academy--a  program that is fostering a new generation of tech-ready--and award-winning--young professionals.

Katherine joins us having just returned from the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) National Leadership Conference, where students Morgan VanRiper, James Willman, and Brady Harmon clinched first place wins, qualifying them for the international competition. Welcome Katherine!

WE WON! We had three kids make it to the FBLA national finals and WE WON – all three with perfect scores and we are off to the Certiport World competition!

Juniors Morgan VanRiper and James Willman, and sophomore Brady Harmon each took first place at the Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta Lambda competition in Anaheim, Calif., in June.

THANK YOU Microsoft IT Academy and the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) for rising to the challenge; giving educators the ability to substantiate our curricular efforts. Teaching and testing is one thing, but for students to leave class with not just one, but multiple industry-level certifications is another. Then to have those translate into credits at local community colleges - over the top! Students and parents are getting an amazing benefit from their public education with IT Academy. Prior to IT Academy I searched out places where students could take a certification test after instruction, but they were always cost prohibitive. Then as an educator, one of my dreams came true. Students were allowed to certify for free!

I came to teaching through the Washington State CTE Business Route Teacher Certification, so I know the importance of certification and real world skills for the workforce. I was looked over for many jobs because I did not hold industry credentials or a traditional college degree, even though I could do the work.

Our first year in IT Academy started mid-semester, with the first round of testing in February of 2012. By year end, students had earned 150 certifications, I had earned my Master certification and Microsoft Certified Trainer credentials, and one student joined me as a Master. This landed us a #6 ranking in Washington State for our first year of IT Academy.

During our second school year, 2012-2013, students caught the vision. They were able to benefit from differentiated instruction; monitor and pace themselves or stay with my teaching - they were finding success. This success fueled a fire! Students fed off their competitive natures to be the best. They began to share their test scores and times and wanted to be on top. Absentee rates went down as students wanted to be in class to learn the material and get to the next certification. At last count we had earned the #4 ranking in Washington State with 350 certifications, four students with MCP credentials, a total of 5 Masters in Office and a Second Place National Champion according to the Microsoft Office National competition. 

We are also having industry professionals come to class and talk about the importance of certification, how a certified candidate may be favored for a job opportunity. For example, one of our students who earned his Master is involved in our partnership with our local Chamber of Commerce, maintaining their website during the school year. Also our student who placed 2nd in the nation for the competition was offered an administrative assistant position. Both will be juniors this year.

Currently most students earning certifications at our school are freshmen. When they approach working age (16 or so) we will track the jobs they obtain as a result of certification.

One best practice I would like to share is about testing. Put kids into the test immediately. If they test first, the instruction takes on a whole new meaning! Then, don’t be afraid to use the resources on the Moodle. Use the state partnership with CCI Learning to get your lab up and running--they are quick to communicate and offer amazing customer service. Then, take the test yourself and certify! Put your name on a “Wall of Fame” along with your students’! Once they’ve seen you take it, encourage them to take the test. Our success comes from certifying soon after instruction is complete for a program. After a test concludes, have your students write down their questions (this is done anonymously). Then review these questions with the class before you test again. This one method has dramatically increased our test scores! When students start to certify it’s like a flame that ignites into a bonfire!

Finally, the program benefits staff development too! Within the Microsoft IT Academy there are vouchers for staff members to become Microsoft Certified Trainers – at no charge. This is usually a $150 fee. There just isn’t a down side.

Again, thank you OSPI and Microsoft for this amazing opportunity.

Katherine Schmit
Business & Technology Instructor/FBLA Advisor, Kalama High School
Microsoft Certified Trainer
Microsoft Office 2010 Master Specialist

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