A company that trains and certifies information technology (IT) professionals in wireless networking is giving its curriculum and courseware to U.S. high schools free of charge, although schools will have to pay some of the cost of equipment and training. The program makes a nice complement to the hard-wired networking programs already offered in schools by the likes of Microsoft and Cisco Systems, its creator says.

Through the Wi-School program, schools can begin training students in wireless networking with the same materials used by IT professionals. So far, about 50 schools in 40 states have signed up to teach the course.

Participating schools receive a free license to the Certified Wireless Network Professional (CWNP) curriculum, which is a vendor-neutral program created by Planet3 Wireless Inc. of Denver.

The professional course, which is taught in five 8-hour days, normally costs $2,500 per person. With this special offer, however, K-12 students can take the course for free.

The CWNP curriculum is ideal for schools that already offer the Microsoft or Cisco introductory and advanced computer networking classes, Planet3 says, because students should have a strong background in networking before taking the CWNP course.

“The Cisco and Microsoft courses don’t teach wireless, and wireless is the hottest thing on the market today,” said Kevin Sandlin, co-founder and chief executive officer of Planet3 and the CWNP program.

The equipment and materials needed to teach the Wi-School curriculum cost about $500. The equipment includes Wi-Fi compatible access points, wireless PC cards, a wireless USB client, and a wireless Ethernet converter.

Training for one instructor is offered at half price, for $1,250. Students also get a 40-percent discount on the certification exam. The exam normally costs $175, but through the Wi-School program, students pay $100.

Educators contacted by eSchool News said they signed up to receive the free curriculum because wireless is the next big thing in technology.

“Wireless is what’s coming to the front in technology, and if [our students] want to have a job [in an IT field], they’ll have to have the basics in wireless,” said Jeff McCormack, network administrator at Medford High School in Medford, Mass.

McCormack said the curriculum met his approval, though it might be a little advanced for some students.

“I thought it was a little difficult for high school, so I’ll have to distill it,” he said. But “it’s a good course, and there’s not much curriculum around that addresses wireless.”