TALLAHASSEE, Florida - Can you imagine being 12 years old and having the technical skills to land a great job in the workforce immediately?
That's the reality for some middle school students who have earned IT certifications under a new program in Florida.
State and business leaders gathered at Griffin Middle School in Tallahassee on Wednesday and recognized some of the first middle school students in Florida to earn IT certifications, such as from Microsoft and Adobe, under a new state law.
The law requires all school districts to create at least one career academy, called a CAPE Academy, at a middle school in each district.
Fifteen districts, including Pinellas County, have established their programs ahead of schedule.
These middle schoolers are the youngest students ever to earn certification from technology leader Certiport. Alan Raymond's work with Certiport has taken him to 47 countries so he says he's seen the competition around the world.
Raymond calls the students trailblazers.
"As I travel around, there's many universities in the Middle East that use the same certifications that you all just received as entrance exams for post-graduate degrees. You're in middle school in the U.S. in Florida and if you are in the Middle East this certification you have now would get you admittance into a post-graduate degree in several countries in the Middle East."
"What you guys did is really, really cool. You don't realize it but it is. And what you're doing is preparing yourselves for change. The world is changing, education is changing, careers are changing."
Sen. Don Gaetz developed the legislation to create these academies in 2007, but it was targeted for high school students. At the time, a lot of people thought IT certification for high school students would be too hard.
In 2011, the law was expanded to include a middle school academy in every district.
Now the curriculum is being taught to 1,400 students in middle school CAPE Academies across Florida.
The program represents a collaboration of business leaders, educators and state workforce professionals.
Workforce Florida President/CEO Chris Hart is excited about the venture.
He says he works daily with people in the highest levels of government to develop ideas like the academies, but it's the principals, teachers and students who have stepped up to make this idea happen.
"This is probably the best day that I've had in so long because I get to talk to those folks and work with them all the time trying to figure out what the right skills at the right time are for industry. But now today we get to see the future leaders of this great country and I know that you're going to be successful."
Since the start of this school year, 90 students have earned certifications.
Rocky Hanna of the Leon County school district told the students the CAPE Academies are a prime example of making education relevant.
"For you at a young age in middle school to have these marketable skills, to walk out in a global economy competing against kids not only from the state of Florida or from the United but across the world, you have a leg up."