Charlottesville High School recently ran a cybercamp to expose students to computer science and cybersecurity. Seventeen students participated in the free two-and-a-half week program, which included hands-on technology projects and field trips.
The camp was funded by a Virginia Department of Education grant. According to an education department news release, “The goal of the programs is to raise student awareness of career opportunities in the rapidly growing field of cybersecurity and help achieve Governor Terry McAuliffe’s goal of making Virginia the ‘cybersecurity capital of the nation.’”
An education department white paper on the program notes that the federal Department of Homeland Security has predicted a need for 2.5 million new cybersecurity positions in the next five years. The cybercamp grant was conceived to help prepare Virginia students for those positions.
“It has been a great success. Students have been engaged and learned a lot,” said Sarah Groth, campsite director and CHS teacher. “All of the students have robots up and running that they have programmed.”
In addition to the robotics component, the camp focused on cyber-ethics and how the internet and cybersecurity fit into society.
Field trips included a visit to Apex Clean Energy in Charlottesville and a meeting with Barry Horowitz, a University of Virginia systems engineering professor who leads the Department of Defense’s System Aware Cyber Security research efforts.
“We also went to the Google campus in Washington, D.C., and talked to a software engineer there and some of the people in their [lobbying department],” Groth said. “We’ve been talking about what a digital footprint is and how they can behave ethically, what sort of impact they have on each other in their communications and contributions to social media.”
As required by the education department grant, the camp was staffed by teachers from a variety of academic backgrounds.
“I think the [department] had a smart perspective, in that they wanted it to be multidisciplinary, and so we had an English teacher and a math teacher and a science teacher,” said Stephanie Carter, career and technical education administrator for CHS. “It wasn’t just a computer teacher. We had teachers who could help students understand the humanities side of it, as well.”
Carter said the English teacher, for example, played a major role in writing projects and lessons on responsible internet use and the digital implications of copyright laws.
Teachers were prepared for the camp during a two-day training program run by the Cyber Innovation Center, a Louisiana-based nonprofit that supports STEM education.
“We have K-12 courses that we’ve developed that are science-, technology-, engineering- and math-focused but infused with cybersecurity,” said G.B. Cazes, vice president of the Cyber Innovation Center. “We provided training for teachers and a camp curriculum based on our library of materials.”
Though the camp was open to CHS students regardless of their career interests, it included preparation for the IC3 Global Standard 4 digital certification exam. The globally accepted certification can help students who are seeking jobs in technology fields or bolster their applications to post-secondary education programs.
Based on the success of the program, Carter said the school wants to host additional camps in the future. They also will be starting year-round afterschool clubs focused on cybersecurity and technology across the city school division.
“We have funding to have an enrichment program throughout the school year,” Groth said. “We’re hoping that funding will be offered by the Department of Education to offer [the camp] again next summer.”
The grants for the cybercamps went to support 32 programs in 38 school divisions across Virginia. The schools were selected based on the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-priced meals.
Each division, or consortia of divisions, received $62,500 for each camp. The grants were made from funding approved by the 2015 General Assembly to support innovative extended-year programs.
In Central Virginia, Nelson County also was awarded one of the grants.