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W.Va. high schools to offer free IT certification

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By Mackenzie Mays 
The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — All high school students in West Virginia will now have the opportunity to graduate with a free information technology certification, thanks to a partnership between Microsoft and the state Department of Education announced Tuesday.

Beginning in the fall, students will have access to Microsoft’s IT Academy, which provides a variety of certifications to students for free upon graduation, including opportunities to become a Microsoft Office Specialist or a Microsoft Technology Associate.

Margo Day, vice president of U.S. education for Microsoft, helped announce the news at the annual Statewide Technology Conference in Morgantown, which involves West Virginia’s K-12 and higher-education officials, as well as other state agencies.

About 63 percent of all jobs require some sort of technology knowledge, and a recent international study showed that the third most important requirement to employers when looking to hire is expertise with Microsoft Office programs, according to Day.

“This is all about preparing students for the 21st century that they’re all living in, and it really now allows the students of West Virginia to become prepared for that too,” Day said in a phone interview.

The IT Academy — a branch under Microsoft’s YouthSpark program — also will be available to the state’s career and technical schools.

Sterling Beane, chief technology officer for the West Virginia Department of Education, said the new partnership could mean better opportunities for all West Virginia students regardless of their field of study, and even regardless of whether they plan to attend college.

“This gives them the ability in high school to earn a technical certification that directly translates to the job market. Even if we have a student who may not be on the college-bound path, they can earn a certification at no cost while they’re in high school that can open so many doors for them that wouldn’t have been there,” Beane said.

“So you have a student who maybe wasn’t necessarily thinking about going to college, but because they’ve gotten involved in this program, they get excited about what opportunities are out there. Perhaps it will spark even more interest.”

Beane said there are benefits for the state of West Virginia as a whole too.

“First and foremost, our desire is to increase opportunities for our students. That’s why we’re here. But also, we can look at this as an economic development type of initiative as well. There are lots of companies out there looking at these workers and also looking for places to locate facilities. If we start having a large number of students certified, then it will make West Virginia a very attractive place for these companies because of its highly skilled workers.”

State Superintendent of Schools Chuck Heinlein said he hopes this will allow West Virginia students to be on top of up-and-coming careers and ever-changing technology.

“Within 10 years, 60 percent of jobs that exist will be ones that don’t exist today,” Heinlein said. “The IT Academy brings industry relevant technology education and software to West Virginia, creating opportunities for every teacher and every student in the state to be successful now and into the future.

“The extent of our collaboration with Microsoft is unprecedented and our students are the true benefactors.”

Earlier this year, the Department of Education adopted Microsoft Office 365, which provides students free access to new online tools.

For more information about the IT Academy program, visit www.microsoft.com/about/corporatecitizenship/en-us/youthspark/youthspark....