Those taking the Ohatchee High School business education teacher’s classes know they're in for weeks of intense training and studying on Microsoft Office programs such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel.
The result, Almaroad said, are business skills students can put on their resumes, with a signed stamp of approval – a certification as a Microsoft Office Specialist.
“It’s college-ready, and business-ready skills,” Almaroad said. “This is a recognition that’s tough for adults to get, and we have some eighth-graders getting these certificates.”
Ohatchee High is Calhoun County school district’s designated Microsoft Academy – a project set up by the Alabama Board of Education and offered to each of the state’s 132 school districts. Through the program, the state covers the cost of Microsoft Office specialist tests, $98 per test, giving students training in job-applicable computer skills.
In the first year of the program, Ohatchee students received 72 specialist certificates. That’s more certificates given out than diplomas for the 2A school of less than 500 students.
That was more certificates than most schools in Alabama. In the first year of the program, Ohatchee was a top-10 school in the state for certificates, and beat out high schools with much larger enrollment including Gadsden City High and Jacksonville High.
Almaroad said a lot of schools asked for the minimum amount of state-paid vouchers, five, to start the program. Almaroad requested 125.
“I just thought I have a little more than 100 students,” she said. “I should be able to get 125 tests.”
Senior Brad Jones, who earned his PowerPoint certification, said even if the skills he learned don’t directly correlate to the job he wants as a gaming programmer, knowing how to put together a successful slideshow can help him get far in the business world.
“If I’m in a meeting and I make a presentation that looks good, that’s going to help,” Jones said. “It’s going to sell my ideas to them.”
For many of Almaroad’s students, the certification is a stepping stone into a college program. Tenth-graders Tyler Brown and Brendan Burnley both said they took the tests to make an impression on their college applications. Even students with less-concrete career goals said the computer skills certainly aren’t going to hurt when it comes time to decide what they’d like to do.
“I’m still exploring my options, but knowing all this will come in handy no matter what I do,” said 10th-grader Peyton Dickinson, showing how to embed a custom-made watermark to a Word document. “These kind of skills are always important to have.”
The certification isn’t just to boost college applications, said Wayne Smart, principal of the Calhoun County Career Technical Center. With the training in the program, he said, students have the computer skills to get jobs right out of high school.
“What’s great is these kids are now proficient in these programs,” Smart said. “They can go out and get jobs because of that certification.”
Without the knowledge of using these programs, its nearly impossible to land a job, said Rosalynn Martin, the director of Human Resources at Jacksonville State University.
“It’s very important to have those skills,” Martin said. “Because you need them at any job at any level.”
Martin said companies looking for clerical support staff always state knowledge of Microsoft Office as a prerequisite for hiring.
“Word processing, how to create a database, or make a presentation, absolutely you’re going to need those basic skills,” she said.
Smart said starting next year he’d like to see all Calhoun County schools have the Microsoft Academy. But for now, the program is expanding in Ohatchee. Last year Almaroad’s students worked on PowerPoint and Word, but this year certificates in Excel, a spreadsheet program with calculating and graphing tools, and Access, a database management system, will also be offered.
“We haven’t had any students take the Access test yet,” Almaroad said. “I’d like to see a student get that certification this year.”
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.