IT Academies: As the demand for high-tech workers rapidly increases, new information-technology academies that opened this fall in 12 high schools could help fill a pressing need for graduates with technology skills, supporters say.
Developed by the National Academy Foundation, a New York City-based group that operates more than 400 academies nationwide to prepare students for careers in finance, travel, and tourism, the IT Academy model builds on the same school-within-a-school concept.
The IT academies are supported by more than $8 million in business grants. The Lucent Technologies Foundation, Lucent Technology's philanthropic arm, asked NAF to design the new model as a way to motivate and prepare students for careers in the burgeoning field of information technology.
To create the academies, NAF partnered with the Center for Occupational Research and Development, a Waco, Texas-based nonprofit that provides a science- and technology-rich curriculum centered on "contextual," or real-world, learning.
Piloted this year for 9th graders, the curriculum gives students broad exposure to technology in areas such as interactive digital media, systems support, and computer-application development so that they will have a strong foundation to enter the information- technology field in college or after graduation. Paid internships expose students to actual work environments.
The Information Technology Association of America reports that half of the 1.6 million information-technology jobs available this year in the United States will go unfilled because of a shortage of qualified workers.
To help, President Clinton signed legislation last month that increased the the number of foreign workers with IT specialities who can be admitted to the country on H1-B work visas from 115,000 to 195,000 for the next three years.
The NAF academies are not intended to be narrowly tailored job-training programs. Ninety percent of the graduates of other NAF academies go on to some form of postsecondary education. A life-skills class for freshmen also prompts students to think about writing a résumé, dressing professionally, and improving their communications skills.
"The idea is not to pigeonhole kids, but to let them know what's out there in IT careers," Greg B. Bethell, the vice president for academic programs at NAF, said at a Nov. 17 luncheon forum in Washington sponsored by the American Youth Policy Forum. "Flexibility is a critical factor here."
—John Gehring [email protected]
Vol. 20, Issue 13, Page 5