Indianapolis Public Schools students Christopher Williams, Nigel Leitzell, China Harris, Andrea Williams, and Scott Patrick earned their CompTIA Strata IT Fundamentals certifications after an enrichment class in conjunction with Harrison College.
Harrison College's offer to teach a CompTIA Strata IT Fundamentals technology class to a group of Indianapolis public high school students was a handshake deal that became a success. Thanks in no small part to the students' aptitude and hunger for IT, the partnership between Harrison, a CompTIA Academy Partner, and Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) is expanding beyond IT for the 2012-2013 school year.
"With the foundations we've put into place, we hope to expand Harrison partnerships across all our campuses to work with IPS students," says Marvin Bailey, president of Harrison College's northwest campus in Indianapolis.
The partnership began when Harrison College, a 110-year-old private career college with 12 campuses in Indiana and Ohio and an online program, answered IPS officials' call for help.
In the 2011-2012 school year, IPS moved to a year-round school calendar that provides 10 extra days of instruction, held during fall and spring breaks, to students who are at risk of failing. But the district also wanted to offer enrichment activities to qualified students during the intersessions as well. IPS Superintendent Eugene White asked his community advisory board, on which Bailey serves, to help provide IPS students new experiences and opportunities during the intersessions.
"Harrison College then came to the plate, saying 'We'd like to do this and help sponsor it,' " says Jeff McMahon, IPS' supervisor of instructional technology.
Harrison College agreed to sponsor a Strata IT Fundamentals class for high school juniors and seniors over the district's two-week breaks in October and March. The certification, from the CompTIA basic series, covers PC components, functionality, compatibility and related technology topics. Both school district and college worked hard to support the program. IPS rigorously pre-qualified junior and senior students for the class based on their grades, attendance and faculty recommendations, and also provided bus transportation, lunch, and two staff members to monitor the students in class.
Class was held for five hours Monday through Thursday at the district's Forest Manor Professional Development Center and on Friday at a computer lab on Harrison's Indianapolis Northwest Campus. Harrison purchased textbooks from McGraw-Hill Education, and the CompTIA Academy program provided access to discounted exam vouchers.
The 20 boys and seven girls who attended the fall class came from all over the city. Many wanted skills and a certification to help them earn some extra money. One student already operated his own graphic design business.
Sean Milliner, Harrison College's IT program coordinator who taught the class, admits, "Going into it, I was apprehensive; I wasn't sure what to expect, but after a day there I was raring to go."
"The students had a lot of basic IT technology terminology down. All had extensive computer usage experience," Milliner explains. Most students participated in an after-school program, run by Net Literacy, a not-for-profit organization, that reclaims and refurbishes old computers. "They were extremely eager to learn, to get something that would be useful when it was time to get a job."
Millner taught the Strata materials during the fall break, offered an online module in the late winter, and used the spring intersession to refresh students' knowledge and prepare the students to take the Strata exam. The class toured Ball State University in nearby Muncie, and learned how to apply to college and register for classes. They also built computers from reclaimed components as a part of their training that they were allowed to take home for the school year. Nineteen returned for the spring intersession.
Only five of the 19 students passed the Strata exam, but Harrison and IPS officials are happy with the result. They learned they had underestimated the students' IT aptitude and overestimated the time students needed to learn the materials. Milliner and McMahon both speculate the pass rate would have been higher if students had been allowed to take the exam at the end of the fall intersession when the training was fresh in their minds.
The impact of the program keeps rippling outward—for students, Harrison College and IPS. One student is enrolled in Ball State University's computer science program this fall; his parents credit the Strata class with setting his sights on college. An IPS staff member, a single mother who sat in on the class and passed the Strata exam, is now enrolled in Harrison College's IT program on scholarship.
"The kids absolutely loved it," said McMahon. "Even though they came from all over the city, they gelled as a group and really formed a bond."
In addition, the Strata class helped put the inner-city students on a more level playing field with more affluent peers, who have easy access to technology. "I can see the hunger that the kids have for this," McMahon said, adding "parents were elated and so thankful for the opportunity for their child to be in the program."
Both Harrison and IPS plan to repeat and expand the IT classes next spring.
For the 2012-2013 intersessions, the goal is offer a Strata class for sophomores and CompTIA A+ training for juniors and seniors. Eventually, Harrison hopes to offer an intersession CompTIA Network+ class for IPS seniors and maybe a summer program.
Beyond IT, Bailey reports that other Harrison/IPS partnerships are developing: Between Harrison's culinary institute The Chef's Academy and IPS' magnet school-based culinary program; between Harrison's health sciences program and IPS' medical magnet school; and between Harrison's criminal justice program and IPS' Shortridge Magnet High School for Law and Public Policy.
For now, in IT, the focus is on certifications, but ultimately Bailey would like to offer dual-credit programming in IPS classrooms—a project that will require Harrison to secure accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission (a status due late this year) and to have its credits and curricula accepted by the state's Core Transfer Library.
In the interim, Bailey is allocating seed funding and seeking additional support for partnerships with IPS that allow Harrison to better serve its community while promoting its opportunities and brand to IPS high school students.
"I'm hoping that after they work with us they'll realize 'I really like the intimacy of a small college and I'm going to enroll in Harrison's IT program,' " he says.