Mukwonago High School to open IT academy next fall

By Lauren Anderson - Freeman Staff

Jan. 23, 2015

Mukwonago High School student Max Kizewski works on HTML coding in
Exploring Computer Science class.

Submitted photo

MUKWONAGO — Responding to the projected skills gap between available technology jobs and qualified employees, a group of Mukwonago High School teachers will launch an IT academy next year in hopes of preparing students for the future job market.

By pairing computer science courses with job skills training, coordinators say, the academy will be the first of its kind in Wisconsin.

Computer science teacher Scott Pratt said he and his colleagues are motivated by Department of Labor statistics indicating that by 2020 the number of IT jobs will outpace applicants by three times.

“We’re hearing the statistics about the need and we feel we can help satisfy that need,” computer science teacher Jim Ferwerda said.

The school is in a particularly good position to create such an academy, Pratt said. Currently, 185 students are enrolled in computer science courses, a record high for the school. With three certified computer science teachers on staff, the school also has an unusually high number of qualified instructors, he said.

“There are not many certified computer science programming teachers nationwide — it’s extremely rare,” Pratt said. “By comparison, the entire Madison School District has one. We think we have a school that has a unique amount of resources to accommodate this.”

The vision of the academy is to leverage the existing course offerings while adding components that will help make students more employable.

Students will take a total of four credits, or about six classes, through the academy. The rest of their schedule will be filled with general coursework.

“It’s not a charter; it’s not a school within a school,” Ferwerda said. “It’s a program that we’re giving kids to further their experiences.”

Similar to picking a major, students will choose one of three paths when entering the academy: programming/ software development, networking/hardware or software applications. In their senior year, students will complete a capstone course, which will include an independent study and workplace experience at area businesses.

Instruction will be influenced by the academy’s governing board, which includes various businesses in IT-related fields. Academy Coordinator Jennifer Wolf said the teachers will seek input from those businesses to stay up-to-date on the needs of a field that is continually changing.

Students will leave with a certificate that academy coordinators hope will put them in advanced standing and give them an advantage when looking for jobs.

Many interested in academy

There is no cap on enrollment at this point, but if early indicators hold true, the first cohort could be larger than coordinators originally anticipated. At a recent informational meeting, 176 people attended to hear more about the program, Pratt said.

Junior Jager Geiche is already signed up and excited about the academy.

“I’m hoping it will help me figure out what part of computer science I want to go into and I think the apprenticeships they offer us will definitely help because it will give us real-world experience to show what is for us or not for us,” he said.

Academy teachers also plan to foster interest among younger students by offering an after-school program called “Code Ninjas” at each of the Mukwonago Area School District’s elementary schools.

“We want to give them an idea of what it’s like now, so when they get to high school, maybe they will want to take a course like this,” computer science teacher Sarah Wardecke said. “We’re really looking forward to teaching these youngsters how to code. Because anyone can code at any age.”

In a male-dominated field, academy coordinators are particularly interested in recruiting females into the industry. Code Ninjas could be a good place to start, Wardecke said.

“I think if you catch them early enough, they realize this is something they can do,” she said. “For myself, it was college when I took my first computer science class ... And, being a girl, I thought this isn’t for me, I’m not good enough, but then I fell in love with it. So, looking back, I wish I could have had experience earlier on.”