“We work with what happens when you go type in www.google.com into Chrome and then press enter.”
-Newport senior Renhao Hu, describing what students learn in Bellevue School District’s Cisco Networking program.
With the tech industry booming, there is a constant demand for workers at tech companies, both regionally and nationally. The Cisco Networking program, part of the district’s Career and Technical Education, is getting students equipped with the skillset for these jobs by taking a lab-based approach, while they are still in high school. Not only are they getting certified to be network engineers, but they are earning college credit towards a tech related college degree. Students enrolled in the Cisco program have the opportunity to take 44 credits in two years, equivalent to one year of college for only $46 dollars.
Led by instructors Jeff Mason and Rod Thompson, the Cisco program is open to students attending any high school in the district. It is also offered to students in neighboring districts, as space is available. Since the program started in 1998, “we have morphed it from a class that started off with 12 kids in it, to now we have over 130 in Cisco,” said Mason. Three classes are offered in the program including Cisco Networking Academy, Advanced Cisco – CCNP and Advanced Cisco – Network Security.
The classes have a hands on learning approach which has led to student success. This approach was ramped up even more last year, with the instructors reducing the number of lectures and increasing the amount of lab work. Mason said student progress is always seen when there is more emphasis on labs, and less on lectures.
Mason’s observation held true last year. With the increased lab work, along with 30 days to review material before the Cisco certification exam, student passing rates for the industry exam increased significantly. For the past four to five years, 30-35 percent of students were passing. Last year that number increased to 75 percent.
The emphasis on labs is not just about having students perform better on the industry test, but also getting them interested in the classes and the tech field. Students appreciate this model and are able to connect to the material. Hu put this in perspective as a student and said, “A lot of time you’re just sitting in class and you’re just listening to something. But with Cisco you get a little bit of both (labs and lectures).”
Along with the lab based approach, Mason teaches students time management. He will give students in the CCNP class a concept, such as asking them to make two phones ring and only provide them with a flash drive, which has Cisco’s voice over IP server software. He will also give students a time frame to complete the project. It is then up to the student to determine the best way to achieve the concept, complete the project on time, and obtain a sign-off from Mason. They also complete a lab report on what they did, any problems they encountered and research information related to the concept.
With continued success and student interest, Mason hopes to expand the program and increase enrollment. Part of this growth is getting more girls involved in the program. This year nearly 12 percent of the program is girls, with the majority of girls in Cisco Networking Academy. The hope is that with the entry class having the highest percentage of female enrollment, these students will continue their Cisco studies with advanced classes too.
Hu encourages girls to try Cisco and said, “even if it remotely sounds interesting, take the class.” He noted that “in high school it’s good to diversify your interests,” and taking Cisco is different than the traditional subjects.
Bellevue High School senior, Julija Pettere did just that and enrolled in the CCNA program at Newport this year. “I definitely think more girls should take this class,” said Pettere. “There is this fear that guys know more than girls do going into it. But it’s so not true.” Almost everyone entering the class knew nothing about tech and now they are all at the same level, she said.
After completing the Cisco program many students continue their education with two or four year degrees, and some students choose to enter the workforce.
Pettere hears back from colleges in April and plans to study engineering or computer science. One day she would like to get her master’s degree and work for a tech leader.
Hu also plans to attend college and get a degree related to information systems. He believes that Cisco could be “a good bridge into something tech related in the future.”
Tech industry leaders “can’t get enough people that know these skills,” said Mason. Cisco students “not only know these skills, but these kids know them really well.”