By Susan Cowley
University of Tennessee- Knoxville
Metro Nashville Public Schools prepares students for “college, career, and life.” It’s a part of the vision statement for Nashville’s school district, but how exactly does this happen? One method involves students receiving industry related professional certifications before high school graduation.
Students in the Academies of Nashville are meeting industry standards to receive professional certifications before walking across stage in their caps and gowns. In fact, during the 2013-2014 pilot year, more than 180 students received certifications in more than a dozen areas.
After completing a yearlong preparatory course, students have the opportunity to take the certification test. If a student passes the exam and meets other certification specific criteria, he or she will walk out of high school with a competitive edge in the workforce. The certifications range across multiple fields from healthcare to broadcasting.
Teachers in the school system have been instrumental to the success of this program. Criminal Justice instructor Jeremiah Davis has seen more students to receive certification than any other teacher in the district.
“Obtaining a certification helps demonstrate maturity at a young age and determination to accomplish goals” says Davis, from Whites Creek High School. It is evident he feels that these certifications leave longstanding positive effects as he states, “When I see my former students and even students from other schools I offered the certifications to, they let me know they are working because of their certification.” Davis knows that it is well worth the effort to see students reap the benefits of industry certification. “My students know that the way to get ahead in life is to stand out in a positive way. Certifications allow a student to graduate with a great distinction and work as they are in college or start their career immediately.”
Stratford STEM Magnet High School graduate, Reggie Mayes sees the benefits of industry certifications in his own life. Mayes says his certification aided him in becoming a more mature individual. He is now working as an unarmed security guard at a local grocery store.
Mayes believes that his certification has “helped me get my life on track to start a good life after school.” He also considers the certification process to have fostered strong, positive relationships between him and his teachers.
Not only does the industry certification program profit the students, it strengthens the teachers as well. “I’ve seen significant improvements to my own work as a result of the training and certification” says Becky Banazsak-Pendergrass, Broadcasting/Media Production Teacher and CTE Cluster Lead Teacher at Hillsboro High School. Banazsak-Pendergrass recently became certified to host a testing cite at Hillsboro; bringing the school the distinction of being one of the only testing facilities for Final Cut Pro in the state of Tennessee. She feels this has given her greater insight into the process as a whole. She strongly supports student certification, and says, “not only does it hold students to a much higher standard, but it also gives them a real-world benefit…obtaining a professional certification that is recognized by their industry of study is a very practical step they can take towards a successful career.” Banazsak-Pendergrass believes the greatest benefit that students receive is an overall boost in motivation; she sums up her experience with certifications by stating, “Students who in the past may have done just barely enough work to pass the course are now taking ownership of their learning experience, actively taking notes and asking questions throughout instructional time, and seeking out additional opportunities for learning and practice.”
This opportunity would not be possible without the support of the Nashville Career Advancement Center, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as federal CTE grants. Through the generous donations of these organizations, students were able to earn certifications worth hundreds of dollars for an individual fee of $10.
Industry certifications are an exciting new benefit for graduates of all MNPS high school programs. “Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools will provide every student with the foundation of knowledge, skills and character necessary to excel in higher education, work and life.” Certifications play a key role in instilling confidence, motivation, and success in each individual student. It is evident that the opportunities allowed to students through professional certifications strengthen the goals and values of the MNPS school system.Pe