Washington Post Magazine, Sept. 16, 2001, page 34

After several years of positive results, Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools are expanding their efforts to provide vocational-technology students with a head start in high-tech fields such as computer repair and network maintenance. Fairfax County’s new Chantilly Academy has been mirrored by numerous school systems across the country.

The transformation of the voc-tech curriculum has had great significance for students and high schools, Chantilly Academy administrators say. First, many of the students taking computer-oriented technical training courses plan to continue on to college, unlike traditional voc-tech students.

Second, because they are college-bound, these students are not isolated from their fellow students into a vocation-focused school-within-a-school.

Third, many of the voc-tech students pursue summer internships with local companies, strengthening their schools’ ties to the community.

Employment possibilities for these students remain exceedingly bright, even with the slowdown in the technology sector in the past year. The U.S. Department of Commerce projects that from 1998 to 2008, about 2 million new information technology jobs will be created.

Computer and software manufacturers recognize that they will need well-trained people to manage the systems they are helping to build today. Therefore, these companies often offer their expertise to Chantilly Academy and conduct certification tests for program graduates.

While the program is very popular, outside education experts sounded a few cautionary notes for administrators of these types of programs:

– Make sure the certifications students are seeking will still be valued in the marketplace in a few years, when students are likely to be seeking employment.

– Make sure the teachers of the courses are skilled as educators, not just as IT experts. Students need to learn “why” as well as “what.”

– Watch out for corporations that offer support to the programs. They might be seeking something in return, such as equipment sales.