Microsoft announced Monday that North Carolina is the first state in the nation to launch the Microsoft IT Academy Program at all public high schools, which can lead students to Microsoft certifications.

The IT Academy “provides students with real-world technology skills they need to be successful in college and their careers,” according to a Microsoft news release.

Under the agreement, teachers will also receive Microsoft learning curricula as well as professional development support and resources to help them tailor their instruction.

Monday’s announcement took place at Wake County’s Leesville Road High School, one of the 37 high schools currently piloting the program.

An additional 20 school districts have agreed to field-test the program in select high schools, beginning in January  in time for the second semester of the school year. North Carolina Department of Public Instruction leaders said they anticipate all of the state’s 628 public high schools will participate in time for the 2011-12 school year.

“In today’s economy, providing the Microsoft IT Academy to high schools just makes sense,” said State Superintendent June Atkinson. “The ability to effectively use Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access are essential skills in most businesses and offices today. I am pleased that North Carolina can provide this opportunity for teachers to improve their skills and for students to be career-ready.”

Students are able to earn certification as Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) or Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) by completing the coursework and passing certification exams.

The program features access to online learning content, official Microsoft course materials, instructor resources and support materials including lesson plans, software licenses and professional, industry-recognized certifications.

There are currently 9,000 Microsoft IT Academy Program members in more than 100 countries, and the North Carolina school system’s adoption of the program is the largest in the world to date.

“The ability to effectively use Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access is an essential skill in most businesses and offices today,” State Superintendent June Atkinson said in a statement.

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