It is never too early to start building a resume. From degrees to certifications to experience, every little bit adds up.
That may not be at the top of a middle school student's priority list, but at Da Vinci Academy sixth- to eighth-graders are earning industry-recognized certifications generally reserved for higher education classes - and having fun with it.
Around 75 students have been participating in an Adobe Photoshop-based curriculum since the beginning of the school year and are given the opportunity to cap that program off with an Adobe Certified Associate credential.
The certificate shows potential employers and schools that those who pass the test have an entry-level knowledge of Photoshop.
"This (certificate) is what people that are graduating high school and college are getting if they want to go into (a design field)," said Gary Martin, technology teacher at Da Vinci.
His students have spent the last seven months working through a curriculum based on the Web-based Adobe visual communication curriculum, supplemented by a project-oriented assignment.
Students use the Adobe tutorials to create actual designs for area businesses. The designs usually don't pass the design stage, but the real-world experience, Martin says, excites and motivates the students.
The end result of the program is a chance to become certified through Adobe.
"They know they're working toward something from day one," said Martin. "That makes a difference. It's not just another grade in the grade book."
Currently, 10 students have taken the certification test and eight have passed.
The Adobe Certified Associate credential is a prerequisite to the Adobe Certified Expert credential.
The testing window just opened, so when students meet Martin's in-class requirements for taking the test (at least an 80 on two pretests and 15 hours of Photoshop study time) they can take a shot at becoming certified in the design program.
They have only two chances at passing the test.
"It's pretty awesome," said Jarrett Turner, an eighth-grader who passed the test on his second try. "It's pretty fun and something that I'm proud of. I think it will really help me out."
The American Council on Education even recommends for the certification program to count for college credit.
"I mean, they're taking the same course that I took (in college)," said Martin, who added the Adobe representative for Georgia told him Da Vinci is the only middle school in the state to test for the certification.
The idea that an industry-recognized certification can be achieved by students who are 11, 12 and 13 years old was a tough sell to Adobe's testing website, www.certiport.com, but Martin was persistent.
"They had their doubts, of course, but I kept pushing and pushing until it happened," Martin said.
Once they were set up, the students blew past expectations, including some who have gone on to receive certification in other Adobe products, like Dreamweaver and Flash.
The percentage of students passing the test doesn't really surprise Martin.
"These kids just think differently than we do," said Martin. "I honestly don't think it's because Da Vinci kids are so far more advanced than other middle-schoolers. I think it's all kids in that age group are more inclined toward the digital stuff."
One student even asked for Photoshop for Christmas and uses "a lot" of her spare time playing in the program.
"I've spent a lot of time with it," said Brooklyn Wilson, a sixth-grader who passed the certification test.
That is the way learning should be, Martin says.
"I think a lot educators and people in the community, we confine learning, maybe not intentionally, but to the school," he said. "But when you take a kid that's passionate about something because it's fun to them, and when they get that confidence boost from a certification, guess what they do in the summer? Guess what they do after school? They push it harder and harder."
Martin hopes to keep pushing the certification program, adding programs for Premier next year, and hopefully more in the future.
"It's a great opportunity and I learned a lot of stuff I never though I could do with pictures and manipulating them in a certain way," said Jalen Granski, an eighth-grader who is taking the test Friday. "It's crazy how much stuff I've been able to learn."