School District Puts Students' IT Skills to Work
Eric Ripley recounts an instance from when he was in high school: "One day in an upper level math class, our instructor asked: 'How many of you are considering going into education?' And nobody raised his or her hand. He said, 'That is the challenge we have. Our best and brightest students are not going into education to train the next group of the best and brightest students.'" Ripley added: "I have never forgotten that."
Originally, Ripley thought he wanted to become an accountant. Although he enjoyed his accounting classes at the University of North Dakota, he soon realized he was much more inclined towards teaching. He earned a degree in business education instead.
Middle School Teacher, High School Teacher, Networking Academy Instructor
Right out of college Ripley was hired at a middle school in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where he taught computer courses. Three years later, he was presented with the opportunity to move to the high school level, not in business education, but in Information and Communications Technology (ICT). Ripley says, "The current instructor, who had been there since the inception of the Cisco Networking Academy at the school in 1998, was moving on to a different role. I jumped at the job and spent six years at Red River High School in Grand Forks teaching Information Technology (IT) classes, including Networking Academy courses."
Ripley returned to the University of North Dakota and earned an administrative credential that allowed him to move into his current position of Career and Technical Education (CTE) Coordinator for the Grand Forks School District.
Networking Academy: Ahead of its Time
Ripley describes what he sees as the benefits of Networking Academy: "It is a perfect marriage of practicality and relevance. It puts students in laboratory activities that actually emulate the real world. Kids see the relevance in the curriculum because it is up-to-date and it is tied to real job skills."
According to Ripley, textbooks are often outdated by the time the school purchases them: "We are moving to more digital curriculum and Networking Academy is ahead of the curve. Networking Academy revises the curriculum on an ongoing basis, which means we have the most up-to-date curriculum for students."
Networking Academy is one of Grand Forks' only programs that provide online content that is not tied to a textbook. Says Ripley: "Networking Academy online material allows students to have access anywhere that they have an Internet connection, whether it is at their house or in the library, and that is certainly unique."
Online Instructor Support Means You Are Never Alone
Ripley is also a big fan of the portal for Networking Academy instructors, called Academy Connection: "I know from when I was in the classroom, Academy Connection is a tremendous resource for a teacher new to the IT area. To be able to use some of these proven teaching resources — whether it is worksheets, vocabulary study sheets, or PowerPoint reviews — is invaluable and unique to Networking Academy. In other areas, when you close the classroom door, you are on your own. I never felt that way with Networking Academy. I always felt like I was in the classroom along with all of the other instructors who are a part of that community."
Tornado Knocks Out School; Students Set Up Network for Makeshift Classroom
In the fall of 2007, just two days before the school year started, one of Grand Forks' outlying communities, Northwood, was hit by a tornado that completely destroyed its school. For most of that school year, students were being bussed to the nearby community of Hatton. They were holding classes in a building built in the early 1900s, specifically on the third floor, previously used for storage.
In order to become useable space for classrooms, the former storage area required technology support. Obviously, given the age of the building, it was never wired for computers; it was never outfitted with wireless Internet access points. Enter Ripley and his Networking Academy students to the rescue: "My Cisco Networking Academy class and I took a bus to Hatton a couple different times and we wired the third floor of the building and provided computer networking access to all of the different classrooms." The displaced students used those classrooms for over a year until their new school was built.
When asked to share some advice with other educators, Ripley said: "There is a huge need for information technology, not only in North Dakota, but also across the nation and the world. Cisco Networking Academy is an excellent option for training students with the skills they need to be college or career ready, whichever route they decide to take. I believe in education and in information technology. IT is critical for the success and prosperity of the global economy. And the driving force of IT education is Cisco Networking Academy."