For 19 rising seniors and recent graduates of Shelby County Schools, a just-completed summer learning program offered a good paycheck and real-world experience in the in-demand field of information technology.

After completing their eight-week “earn and learn” work experience, the students graduated Thursday from the program made possible through a partnership between the school district, the Workforce Investment Network and the Creating IT Futures Foundation.

“They get a chance to earn a paycheck,” said Kevin Woods, executive director of the Workforce Investment Network and a member of the Shelby County Board of Education. “But we wanted them to also walk away with real-world credentials where they can go to work with a skill set.”

Seventeen students passed an end-of-summer certification exam that allows them to work in the IT field. They also earned $13 an hour while learning how to dismantle and reassemble computers, as well as providing some IT work for the school district.

“We all know technology infiltrates every single walk of life, every single job,” said Eric Larsen, director of IT Futures labs, at Thursday’s ceremony. “Leverage that. There are companies that will pay you for your skills.”

Fifty percent of participants were female, and 90 percent were black — both minorities in the field of science, technology, engineering and math.

Robert Thigpen, who recently graduated from Whitehaven High School, said the course allowed him to save money for his first semester of college and obtain experience in a career path in which he’s interested. Thigpen, 18, passed the initial certification exam and is taking another exam next week. Someday, he hopes to work in the software industry.

“We’ve learned enough to enter into an entry-level position in IT,” Thigpen said. “I feel like next summer I can come home and get a good, well-paying job.”