St. Mary’s High School junior Kasey Feldtmose saw an opportunity after she and five other students attended the University of Baltimore Cyber Discovery Camp after her freshman year.
Her interest in cyber engineering was piqued and she took action.
“After the six of us came back from the program, we realized that we needed something more at St. Mary’s,” Feldtmose said.
Claire Dillon, St. Mary’s Cyber Literacy teacher, said the teens who attended the program were so excited that it made St. Mary’s realize it needed to expand its curricula.
“The kids came to us and said, ‘we can’t stop right here; we’ve got to do something like this at school.’ Their excitement and enthusiasm was telling,” she said.
This enthusiasm was the driving force behind a new program at the school – the St. Isidore Cyber Program. Kevin Nolten, the director of Academic Outreach at the Cyber Innovation Center in Louisiana, said the St. Mary’s program is one of a few programs around the country focused specifically on cyber security.
While the program has been in development since last fall, this is St. Mary’s first year of implementation. It differs from other STEM programs around the county because it is offered to every student in the school. It incorporates Liberal Arts and it provides preparation for industry certifications, said Connie Coker, director of technology at St. Mary’s.
“Cyber-related issues are taking off in banking, health care, law, retail, government, the entertainment industry, personal finance, identity theft, you name it… and quite frankly, our education, workforce and government regulations can’t keep up the pace…” Coker said. “Our goal isn’t to churn out programmers. We developed the St. Isidore Cyber Program so that every St. Mary’s graduate will be exposed to these rather new, very relevant skills and ideas and use them as a foundation as they further explore.”
Students aren’t the only ones learning. Because the program is new, Dillon and two other St. Mary’s instructors – Jamie Schlie, Honors Cyber Science teacher, and Sam Vecrumba, physics teacher – completed hours learning the curricula and spent a week in Dallas at the Cyber Innovation Center’s ‘Education Discovery Forum’ for hands-on professional development.
Starting this year, every ninth grade St. Mary’s student is required to take its new Cyber Literacy course. The course exposes students to cyber by blending electricity, programming and robotics with significant investigations into the liberal arts and humanities. For example, as students are learning to program, they will also read Isaac Asimov’s iRobot and debate the ethics of artificial intelligence.
Coker said that while programming skills are important, the liberal arts are key to the success of the program. The curriculum also prepares every student with the skills needed to pass CompTIA’s IT Fundamentals certification. If they choose to take this exam, students could receive an industry certification as ninth graders.
While some students will decide one year of cyber is enough; others such as Feldtmose, may want to dive deeper. A series of courses is available, Honors Cyber Science, Honors Physics and AP Computer Science.
Although Honors Physics existed at St. Mary’s, it was re-vamped to include cyber studies. AP Computer Science Principles will be added to the curriculum next year as the program’s capstone course. The curricula is collaborative, project-based and also requires field experience.
“We’re reaching out to area organizations letting them know that St. Mary’s High School is diving in to cyber and wants to join forces,” said Coker about the field experience. “Garnering a notion of real-world application for our students is key to the program’s success.”
Those who complete all courses and field experience with a local cyber-related organization will receive a Cyber Program certificate upon graduation, and potentially graduate with industry certifications. Twenty-two sophomore and junior students, including nine female students, are now taking Honors Cyber Science. Recruiting and sustaining female interest is a goal, Coker said.
Feldtmose encourages students to take advantage of the new curricula.
“Definitely explore the options that are provided to you; get involved in cyber studies,” she said. “I’ve learned so much more than I ever thought I would. It [the program] showed me how much more there is to the cyber security world.”
The school has also enhanced its offerings in its elementary school (K-8) to expose students to the current curricula. All K-8th grade students now take a project-based STEM course and there are two robotics teams comprised of students in grades 5-8.
“Our hope is that the foundation students are getting in our elementary school will elevate the St. Isidore Cyber Program in our high school,” Coker said.
by: Renee Houston Zemanski