As five schools in Richmond and Columbia counties begin implementing a new “cybersecurity” career pathway this summer, teachers and students are busy preparing for the new curriculum.
Born out of a partnership with Fort Gordon’s Army Cyber Command, Georgia universities and Augusta’s major school systems, the new pathway is designed to train students in techniques needed to protect military and civilian computer networks. Classes will feature lessons in computer security practices, ethics and programming.
The state Department of Education gave its approval April 2, and classes are scheduled to begin during the fall semester. Students at the Academy of Richmond County, Richmond County Technical Magnet School, Hephzibah High School, Greenbrier High and Grovetown High will attend the first classes based on the new curriculum.
Melissa Clark, the Career, Technical and Agricultural Education administrator for A.R. Johnson Magnet School and Hephzibah High, said the new pathway is meant to prepare students for the workplace of the future.
“Jobs involving computers are the way things are going now,” Clark said. “These are the sort of courses that make sure our students remain competitive in the workforce.”
It’s a perspective some principals are eager to embrace. Richmond Academy Assistant Principal Kierstin Johnson said her school planned to purchase a computer server and switch specifically for its computer security classes. She said students were “very, very interested” in learning more about the field.
“They want to do more than just be a typical computer user. … They want to learn more about how computers operate in a more real sense,” Kierstin said. “It’s really engaging them … to me, it seems like they know this is their future as far as careers are concerned.”
The courses have brought new challenges.
Greenbrier business and computer science teacher Whitney Poucher helped organize and outfit a computer lab “specifically fit for the course.” She said she needed a classroom designed to give her school’s 180 cybersecurity students the ability to manipulate a network while keeping them from “endangering” the school’s main systems.
“Basically, we’re going to set up a network within a network … a virtual one they can interact with and as they learn,” Poucher said. “They’ll need to be able to change network settings, establish firewalls and other basic security measures.”
Regardless of the work involved, Poucher said her school “desperately needs” classes teaching cybersecurity basics.
“Everything these days is online … and all of that information sent out every day has to be secured by someone. Any field that involves computing needs a security expert, and now we can provide that,” Poucher said. “This is a great way for students to get an introduction to a rapidly growing career field, and it’s definitely needed here.”