Tucked away in a corner of Laurel High School in a couple of storage rooms turned into computer labs, Michael Hines is training the next generation of information technology workers.
In one room, three students sketch out programming code on a piece of paper. In the next, four students huddle around a smartboard and configure a computer network to connect Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia.
“So you all made a server? You all trying to be lazy, man,” Hines says to the group of students, all laughing now. “No, that’s okay. Because when someone else has trouble with it, you’re going to show them how to put the server in there.”
Over the past 12 years, Hines has prepared more than 150 juniors and seniors for computer networking certification exams and careers in information technology through Laurel High’s Cisco Networking Academy. The curriculum and learning platform for the program is provided by Cisco, one of the largest computer networking companies in the world.
“I wish I could get them earlier, because the world is IT,” Hines said. “Take the Internet away, everything shuts down.”
Cisco recently awarded Laurel High a $10,000 grant in recognition of Hines and his students’ accomplishments.
“In the past five years we’ve had everybody pass,” Hines said, referring to the certification exams. “It’s almost unbelievable.”
In 2015, one of Hines’s seniors received the highest score in the country — 986 out of 1,000 — on her CCENT exam, an entry-level Cisco certification. She and her teacher were invited to a black tie event for chief executive officers of various information technology companies, and they both met the head of Cisco.
This spring another of Hines’s students received the second-highest score in the country on the test.
“I’m the guy who’s fortunate, because I got some kids who really want to learn, who take it seriously and make it easy for me to come to work every day and do what I do,” Hines said.
Hines teaches his students through a combination of lessons, simulated projects and group work, but also with field trips to technology companies and competitions.
No matter what he is teaching, Hines said that he makes sure all of his students are on the same page.
“I tell them you can’t advance until everyone’s there, so they’re all helping each other,” he said.
Students from Laurel High and other high schools in Prince George’s County are invited to apply to the Cisco Academy during their sophomore year for participation in their junior and senior years.
About 100 applications are received every year, Hines said, and around 20 students are accepted via a lottery process. Seventy to 80 percent of those students are from Laurel and the remainder come from other schools in the northern part of the county and are bused to Laurel High.
Suitland High School offers a Cisco Networking Academy for students in the southern part of the county.
The students in Laurel High’s Cisco program spend 90 minutes every day with Hines and are expected to maintain an attendance rate of at least 94 percent.
That is not generally an issue, Hines said. He sometimes has to kick students out so that they go to their other classes, and students often come in during their lunch break to work on their projects or get extra help.
“Long story short, Mr. Hines is a great teacher,” said senior Jordan Philp. “He makes everything understandable — not easy, but understandable. He’s the main reason that all of us passed the [certification] test. And that was the goal that the class was going for: 100 percent passing rate.”
Senior Duong Truong said that their teacher came in over the summer to give his students extra help in preparation for their certification exam.
“I needed help, like a lot. I honestly doubted myself with the CCENT exam,” she said. “I thought I would get the lowest score, but I ended up getting the second-highest [in my class]. It’s because of those cram sessions with Mr. Hines in the summer.”
Truong applied to the Cisco Academy because she didn’t know what else to do, she said, but now she couldn’t imagine her high school life without it.
She has had the opportunity to attend various technology conferences and conventions geared toward women, and plans to study computer science in college.
Senior Solape Olaniyan transferred from Parkdale High School to Laurel High to participate in the Cisco Academy because he has loved working with computers ever since he “was little,” he said.
“It’s been great. I’ve had a lot of hands-on activities on stuff that I actually like to do,” he said. “A lot of opportunities opened up for me because this is also like a college class.”
Olaniyan passed his certification exam and is currently interning as an information technology consultant at a small business-IT consulting firm in Silver Spring.
He will be given full-time work there when he graduates in the spring, he said.
“Most of my peers start off with fast food restaurant jobs, but I was able to get my start in the field that I actually like, so that was a blessing for me,” he said. “I cherish that.”