By Sascha Zuger
When Jana Hambruch of Lee County School District in Fort Myers, Florida, learned that despite the district’s having secured state grant funds to cover teacher certifications, no funds would be available to cover travel costs, the industry-certifications coordinator realized that Lee County SD had a logistical and financial nightmare on its hands.
Fortunately, Hambruch’s previous job had involved running an industrycertification technical training program.
Keeping IT Local
Hambruch felt strongly that success relied on the program’s being overseen by someone who could handpick suitable instructors, provide a set curriculum with online resources, and devise a practice exam to act as a solid measurement for the teachers.
When Hambruch paired highly knowledgeable instructors and their newer counterparts so they could help each other during the courses, she found “confirmation of how this could work in the classroom.” Staying within the district changed the whole platform to true collaboration, permitting shared lesson plans, brainstorming of the best grading methods, and determining which projects were most successful and engaging. “We have 13 high schools and two tech centers, and every school has its own environment, so they don’t normally see each other. This is a great opportunity for them to unite and share resources.”
The community soon took notice of this wealth of skill and talent. “Local businesses began to call the schools, asking, ‘Can you guys create something?’” Hambruch says. Sometimes standout students are paid by the hour to design Web sites or create digital brochures. Some communities, impressed by the students, devised mentoring programs.
“They have a solid skill set with specific certifications and knowledge behind them,” Hambruch says.
How It Makes Cents
Not only do students earn cost-free industry certifications in programs like Adobe and Microsoft, but Florida’s Department of Education recognized that industry certification can be equal to IB programs and AP courses.
Students can earn college credits in their senior year, and with Adobe products as a platform (and a proactive Hambruch ensuring that teachers are already being trained for the 2011 upgrade to CS 5 certifications), a district-wide contest offers the opportunity for every high school student to be noticed for what they are creating while competing for a variety of prizes and scholarship dollars.
Hambruch has kept costs far below those of all other grant-funded training courses while recognizing that teachers’ time is of value, by offering a $15-per-hour stipend for time spent pursuing certifications (in addition to points earned for service that count toward professional development).
To this end, great interest and increased enrollment in the program (69 percent in the first year) has earned many Lee County schools Cape Academy status, which not only nets them a stipend amounting to an additional $1,200 per student but also brings schools that may previously have been rated D schools up to the A level.