A new school year is underway, and at Chapel Hill High School (CHHS) in North Carolina that means a new class of students who will begin something very different from the traditional set of humanities, math and science classes.
CHHS is part of a growing movement among high schools to offer computer science and engineering classes alongside standard college prep curriculum. These schools recognize that a solid technical education is a prerequisite for many careers in today’s technology-driven world. And it’s essential to addressing the looming IT skills gap—currently estimated at 1 million unfilled positions.
The World’s Largest Classroom: Inside the Cisco Networking Academy
Like many of its counterparts, CHHS is a member of the Cisco Networking Academy (NetAcad). NetAcad is a corporate social responsibility program run by Cisco, the world leader in networking equipment. The program gives educational institutions access to the curriculum and support resources they need to deliver IT training and provide students with hands-on experience with technology.
The Cisco Networking Academy is a great resource for high schools like CHHS. It provides operational support through regional Academy Support Centers (ASCs), training to teachers through its network of Instructor Training Centers (ITCs), and a complete library of proven curriculum.
“At Chapel Hill, we’re lucky to have Stanly Community College as our ASC,” explains Jennifer Walker, a NetAcad instructor at CHHS. “Just this past year, I needed to upgrade our lab equipment, and they suggested vendors and provided information on the equipment to match the courses in our Academy. Every year they host ASC meetings, during which they provide curriculum updates, industry trends, and connections to businesses. The ASC team at Stanley Community College is always available to help and share their expertise. They’re just great.”
A New Approach to Instructor Training
Stanly Community College also serves as the NetAcad ITC for CHHS. Walker had prior experience with the Cisco Networking Academy, but desired training updates in the course curriculum. So three years ago when Walker needed to complete instructor training to teach the CCNA Routing and Switching curriculum, she took the first ITC course over the summer at Stanly Community College. She followed up with the second course during the fall semester.
It can be challenging for busy teachers to take career development training, especially in complex subjects like IT networking. “Instructors today just don’t have the time or money to travel to training and spend a week in a classroom,” notes Kelly Caudle, Program Head at Stanly Community College. “That’s why we use NDG’s NETLAB+ system to train instructors at other Cisco academies. With NETLAB+ we’re able to give them remote access to equipment and teach those courses online.”
NDG’s NETLAB+ is a remote access solution that allows academic institutions to host real IT equipment, virtual machines, and a wide variety of curriculum content options. NETLAB+ includes all the software needed to provide an environment through which instructors can manage IT courses, and learners can schedule and complete lab exercises.
“I had to take the Routing and Switching Essentials course in the fall, in addition to teaching,” explains Walker. “Being able to complete the course online really helped. I loved the ability [NETLAB+ provides] to access equipment remotely. It’s such a great platform to use, especially useful for those taking the courses online.”
Now Walker and the other instructors who have been through the ITC at Stanly Community College are equipped with the training they need to teach the students in their communities. In total, the ASC and ITC program at Stanly supports 62 academies (high schools, community colleges, and universities) in North Carolina, and 140 academies total across the Southeast.
More than Technical Training
The value of career technical education (CTE) programs like NetAcad extends beyond the material students are taught. Research shows that high school students who participate in CTE programs are less likely to drop out, have higher academic performance, and are more prepared for both college and careers.
“I love CTE,” Walker says, “I see that students are able to understand and apply what they learn in their other classes. We’re able to pull in science, math, social studies, language, arts, and vocabulary related to each. We give students a way to apply information from other classes and see the importance of those classes now, rather than wait until they get a job or go to college.”
Closing the Skills Gap in North Carolina, and Beyond
More than 9,000 institutions in 170+ countries have joined the Cisco Networking Academy since its inception in 1997. Together, they have helped prepare nearly 7 million people for IT careers. The numbers are certainly remarkable—but what’s even more impressive is the impact that the program has had on individuals and their communities.
Walker explains, “So many of my students continue to IT careers, and they often report that the skills they learned in the Cisco Networking Academy courses were a great foundation and made future courses easier to understand.” Many of her students receive professional IT certifications and then continue their education at universities and community colleges.
Readers interested in seeing the extraordinary impact of Walker’s program can follow her on Twitter (@LearnITWalker).