The Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center will break ground June 6 on an academy that will provide professional certificates in computer networking.

Students who enter the academy as ninth- or tenth-graders will graduate the program with Cisco Certified Network Associate certificates through Cisco Systems.

Graduates will be able to directly transfer those credits toward an associate’s degree at Piedmont Virginia Community College, said Catherine Lee, CATEC director.

The academy marks the first time students in Albemarle and Charlottesville will be able to leave high school with a professional credential in information technology, Lee said.

“CATEC is serving both the city and the county school divisions, so we would be filling not only a gap at CATEC, but a gap in both those divisions to train students at the high school level to get industry certificates in computer networking and cybersecurity,” she said.

The CATEC Center Board approved the $310,000 academy in December. CATEC expects to have hired two instructors to run the program by June 3, according to a staff report.

Through the academy, students will be able to obtain the CompTIA A+ certification, considered the foundation IT certification, as well as Cisco Certified Network Associate credentials in security and switching and routing.

“Our choice to work with PVCC to provide lab-based credentialing programs for IT … is in alignment with that growing industry,” Lee said. “Northrop-Grumman is one of the biggest employers for that industry segment, all the way down to smaller facilities that would need somebody with IT experience, and they would hire somebody with an associate’s degree or a credential.”

The academy will be housed in two classrooms being constructed at CATEC this summer, and is expected to enroll about 40 students in the fall. Cisco will provide the curriculum, the learning software, technical support and training, according to a CATEC staff report.

The academy at CATEC will provide lab and testing space, and the school will arrange dual-enrollment credits with PVCC.

“The way we have built it is that every course that is taken at CATEC transfers over to PVCC,” said Adam Hastings, dean of business, mathematics and technologies at PVCC. “When they obtain industry certificates at CATEC, those will also count for credit at PVCC. The nice thing about professional credentials is that they follow you.”

If a student were to graduate CATEC with a professional credential and enter the workforce, they could return to PVCC years down the road and have those credits honored, Hastings said.

The majority of students are expected to come from nearby Albemarle High School, CATEC documents show. Proximity, as well as a county schools policy that allows career and technical education students to spend more time at CATEC, mean the program draws more students from county schools, staff said.

A staff report showed the program has had interest from 22 AHS students. The next-biggest contributor is Charlottesville High, with four enrollees, the report showed.

Members of both the city and county school boards said they are excited to have an IT credentialing program available.

“It’s an exciting opportunity for the students to earn a certificate and find employment that is well-paid,” said Amy Laufer, Charlottesville School Board chairwoman. “It’s wonderful.”

Kate Acuff, chairwoman of Albemarle’s School Board, said she is excited for the schools to expand their relationship with Piedmont, but wants to make sure the program is well publicized to all students.

“The one piece that does interest me is are we doing enough to get female students interested in it,” she said “It is a good career path, and I think we should look into that and work on getting girls to sign up if they are not already.”

The academy is scheduled to open Aug. 17.