Photos Jason Huynh
Twenty-Five students start their morning at Cass High School in White, Ga. in class with Coach Matt Thompson and Mike Foster. This isn’t an ordinary class, but a course dedicated to training the students in cyber security.
What makes this course unique, you may ask?
By the time these 25 students graduate from high school, they will have three certifications and an internship. This will give them experience in the field needed to succeed in the workforce after high school, oftentimes more than most students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
This educational course was born of one senator’s desire to give students from every background a chance to succeed.
State Senator Bruce Thompson is responsible for the birth of this tech-based program. He formed the idea when he had his identity stolen four years ago.
Senator Thompson delved into cyber security to try to solve his problem and to understand how it happened. At the time, he chaired the Science and Technology Committee in the Georgia State Senate. Through a series of study committees, he and his colleagues decided to support a Cyber Innovative Center in Augusta, Georgia and initiated the GBI center. They also convinced the state to adopt cyber insurance.
These steps lead to the committee realizing that there were, the time, around 200,000 unfilled cyber security jobs in the country. Discussions with the colleges and technical schools about the programs in place to train students in cyber security revealed that there was a desperate need for the training to start earlier.
Realizing that there was an opportunity to help the students who couldn’t attend college right out of high school, Senator Thompson turned his attention to the public-school system in hopes of finding a solution. With the help of the man who developed the National Initiative for Cybersecurtiy Education (NICE) – the framework for cyber security in the United States – Colonel Robin Williams, Senator Thompson came up with a game plan to help his community.
Williams had set up a similar program in Las Vegas that ran for 90 days but Senator Thompson wanted to do more than just teach the students this particular skill; he wanted to give the students who had few chances in life the opportunity to change their lives. The target was a school with free and reduced lunch, which means that of the students attending the school, a significant percentage struggled financially. “I want the students who have never been chosen for something in their lives,” said the Georgia Senator.
Resistance came from the schools due to the uncertainty of the program and lack of funding. This didn’t stop him, not even for a moment.
He decided to look for ways to fund the program. That is when he met Phillip Page who is the new Superintendent of the Bartow County School System. Page was interested in the program and now the legislator knew that Bartow County was the place to start. The initial funds were provided by the state and the class was ready to be set up. Cass High School was chosen, and a signing day was organized (hats and contracts included) for the inaugural cyber security class.
A broad variety of students are currently attending the course. Coach Matt Thompson confirmed, saying, “We are teaching all abilities and all backgrounds of students in this program. Kids who never would have been able to go to college or even want to go to college are in our classrooms and I’ve got a kid who wants to work on robots and be an engineer.”
Matt continues by explaining that college may not be for everyone, and sometimes the pressure to enroll is overwhelming. However, if students want to pursue a path that has career potential, why not take this opportunity and be competitive in the job market. A major component of that success is passion. The students have to buy in and want to be successful in the class. They have to be engaged for this program to be successful.
The class began when the students returned from winter break in January of 2019. Mike Foster teaches the class remotely from Las Vegas with the help of Matt who teaches Business and Technology and Business Communications at Cass.
The school is led by Principal Stephen Revard. Revard and Matt gave V3 a look at what happens on their end of the process.
“Without the leadership of Senator Thompson and Dr. Page,” says Revard, “the program would not have been successful. They worked to bring this program to our school. Of course, Senator Thompson worked on a federal and state level and Dr. Page on a district level, both of them helping to bring a program that would normally take about 12 months to bring to a district, only took three.”
Revard also pointed out that without the right teacher in the classroom, this class wouldn’t work at all. He chose Matt because he was confident that he could form the relationship with the kids and be competent in the material as well. According to Matt, the curriculum that he teaches to the 25 students comes from a company called CyberTech.
The kids start by learning the hardware for the first half of the semester before shifting into software. Through this process the students will earn their first certification: the CompTIA A+. This is the base certification needed to work in technology. Next fall, the students will then learn networking and earn another certification called Networking +. They will then finish out this portion of the program with a Security + Certification. Finally, the students will complete an internship that will give them real-world experience and be qualified for a job as soon as they graduate from high school.
The greatest benefit the administrators said that they have seen from this program is the kids now have a purpose; students have a reason to be motivated. When they graduate, they will be able to contribute to the local economy. This opportunity is rare, and is not found it in many other high school programs. But the hope is that this won’t be rare for long. Senator Thompson is hoping that with the success of Cass High School’s program, more funding will available and there will eventually be at least one class of this kind in every school district in Georgia.
This program gives hope to students who might not have had much for their future before now. But it also provides an opportunity to prove that it doesn’t matter where you come from, with passion and hard work achieving success is not out of reach.
Because this course is the first of its kind, the community has a chance to witness what programs like this one might do for the students. The success of the program lies solely in whether the students were positively impacted or not.
So far, those involved will tell you that they see a change in the students and their attitudes about education, that they know what they are doing is important. Now, more than ever, the students in that classroom need to know that their community is rooting for them and standing behind them. Every student should be encouraged and supported or their accomplishments, whether they are scoring touchdowns, making All-State band or learning information that will keep our online homes safe and secure.
In a few semesters, these 25 students will hopefully be making history and setting an example for all schools to follow.