When a teacher’s computer goes down in a Doss High School classroom, it isn’t the school’s tech support person who shows up to fix it. Rather, it’s one of the students in technology coordinator J.R. Drummond’s help desk class, putting into practice in the field everything they’re learning in the classroom.
Doss, located in Louisville, Kentucky, is part of Jefferson County’s Five-Star Schools program; an initiative in which high schools offer career and technical education courses geared specifically towards preparing students for career and college readiness. Doss is one of three magnet schools in the district with a business and information technology program (BIT). Like in college, Doss students have majors, and those who are in the IT track pursue courses that not only teach them skills, but prepare them to take industry-approved IT certification exams like CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA IT Fundamentals.
Drummond, who has held the role of technology coordinator at Doss for three years, helped guide the implementation and growth of the program. He comes to his position with 13 years of experience as an educator, beginning as a physical education teacher, a rarity for a BIT school, where most teachers come from industry. He possesses an important insight into what it takes for a student to succeed.
“‘A student will say, ‘Oh, I want to pass A+,’ and I say, ‘If you’re going to play varsity basketball, do you only pick up a basketball when you go to basketball practice?’” Drummond said. “‘You’re not going to pass A+ if you’re just going to study in here. You’ve got to dive into it.’”
The depth of knowledge required to pass an exam like CompTIA A+ could be a lot for any high schooler, and different students have different levels of academic confidence. Doss is home to a diverse student body with many students from blue collar and ESL backgrounds, and their educational needs and previous experience with technology can vary. While some students may be ready to dive directly into the advanced material, others benefit greatly from building a firm foundation. This is one reason why Drummond has found so much value in the CompTIA IT Fundamentals certification, which certifies knowledge of the basics of computing.
“If you give students an opportunity to have some success, to get excited about a topic, to get some confidence, their learning can take off from there,” said Drummond. “That’s why I think ITF is so important. It lays the groundwork for those kids who are going into IT. Success and confidence and excitement [are] so important for kids’ education.”
In addition to building enthusiasm for the field among students, Drummond sees another practical feature to the credential. While few students will walk out of high school and into a position as a network administrator, many will find themselves in careers that require a strong understanding of basic computing.
“If I have a business or finance or accounting kid, [he or she is] going to be more sought after if [he or she has] basic IT fundamentals,” Drummond said. “Because in a small office you don’t have to outsource or hire out little IT jobs if you have someone who can manage the day-to-day stuff. I think it’s going to be a critical thing for all students to get employed and move up the interview list if they can be the IT guy or the IT girl in the office.”
The credential, and Drummond’s help desk courses, have helped Doss students succeed. Drummond has had students from his help desk classes accepted to engineering schools, and had one student who was offered an internship at Yum! Brands, owners of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut.
Like the IT industry itself, the IT Fundamentals credential is undergoing changes. To reflect the increasing use of mobile and cloud computing in the workplace, the revamped exam covers those skills alongside the basics of laptops and desktops.
Drummond sees students statewide benefitting from IT Fundamentals both in the skills it teaches and the confidence it builds. Succeeding with IT Fundamentals can help students realize that a career in the world of computing is possible if they take the right steps.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for students to be prepared for a career in the business world or the IT world,” said Drummond said. “But more than anything, it gives those students confidence to continue on in technology and continue on in their learning; to not give up on those dreams.”
Doss High School's ongoing promotion of professional certification among its students is supported and facilitated by the CompTIA Academy Partner Program. Click here to learn more about how the program helps students of all ages and backgrounds begin down the path to successful careers in IT and to find out how your institution can get involved.
Matthew Stern is a freelance writer based in Chicago.