Cyber Security Education Prepares Students for Challenges of Cyber World

| January 20, 2011

By Jennifer Balog

The “cyber world” touches our lives every day, as we purchase products and services on the Internet, communicate via email, navigate social networking sites, seek information and perform our jobs. The cyber world is now and is here to stay. While cyber attacks by viruses, the vulnerabilities of computer networks, and the tragic events of cyber bullying fill the media, educators at Rome Catholic School have responded by constructing a Kindergarten through grade 12 cyber pathways curriculum to meet the demands of this technological age and challenge students to thrive in the cyber world safely.

The events of 9/11 brought to center stage the importance of safeguarding America from crippling internet-based attacks by terrorists against U.S. power grids, airports and other targets. In 2003, then President George W. Bush made cyber security a focal point in his National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace. Computer experts at the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) in Rome, NY, under the direction of
Dr. Kamal Jabbour, the lab’s principal computer engineer, developed a 10-week Advanced Course in Engineering Cyber Security Boot Camp for the military Reserve Office Training Corps. The successful completion of this program became the model for a similar course Jabbour and his team would develop with Syracuse University’s Engineering and Computer Science Department for a high school curriculum. Funding for this project was made possible through a congressional grant obtained by U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, then chair of the House Science Committee.

In the winter of 2006, in partnership with AFRL and Syracuse University, the initial 20-week high school course was piloted at Rome Catholic, which enrolled thirteen students in a four-day-a-week, 45-minute class.

“Besides teaching teenagers to protect their digital assets, the course opens their imaginations to the challenges in cyberspace, and seeks to purse a college education in computer engineering and a professional career in cyber security” explained Jabbour.

Four short years after the initial high school-level cyber security elective, the next logical step in the process, according to Sandra Engle, technology integration manager for Rome Catholic, was to expand the cyber curriculum. Soon, Cyber Security I, II, III, Cyber Life Skills and then Cyber Juniors and Cyber Kiddies courses completed a K to 12 “cyber pathway” education to further equip Rome Catholic students to succeed in a rapidly changing job market.

The pathway begins with “Cyber Kiddies,” a Kindergarten through 4th grade program. Classroom teachers, along with Engle, introduce cyber security using age appropriate terminology and accomplish National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) for grade level computer competency. Students in Kindergarten through 2nd grade get an initial exposure to cyber ethics and making the right choices in regards to computer safety rules in the home and at school. Students set up links to safe sites on the school website and use cyber-safe school subscription databases, such as NetTrekker and Castle Learning Online, for doing Internet projects. Third and 4th grade students explore cyber governance, intellectual property rights, and learn about information sharing devices such as AlphaSmarts, PDA’s, and iPods and the “Avenues of Attacks” with email viruses and trojans. Cyber Juniors in grades 5 through 8 build upon the Cyber Kiddies program by discussing the impact of cyber bullying and the use of social networking sites. Cell phones, identity theft and appropriate uploads to YouTube accounts are covered, as well.

High school students have a catalog of cyber studies to pursue from the initial cyber security elective, Cyber Life Skills, to Cyber Security I, II and III for students following a career track in cyber technology.

“I believe one of our most powerful links to the cyber pathway curriculum is our Parents as Cyber Partners’ Program,” said Engle. This monthly program connects students, classroom teachers, and parents in the world of cyber education. The program runs before the Parent Teacher Group meeting and is conducted by Cyber Security III students, who speak about current cyber threats and how to safe guard the computer. “We have now come full circle, with our students sharing what they have learned with our school community,” Engle added.

The final trail to be blazed in the cyber pathway is a cyber security articulation agreement (college credit) between Rome Catholic and area college cyber security programs. “This seems to be the final step in the pathway,” said Engle. “The technology staff and students have reviewed, updated and integrated new subject matter yearly into the cyber curriculum. We feel it is comprehensive and complete. Many of our graduates go on to major in cyber security or computer sciences at area colleges and receive their bachelor’s degrees in cyber security and information assurance.”

Jennifer Balog is the development coordinator for Rome Catholic School.

Category: Digital, Featured

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