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Schools with Shared Mission Partner on Cyber Security Program

Wednesday, November 14, 2018  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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Report from 2018 SAIS Stephen P. Robinson Collaboration Grant Recipient Trinity Presbyterian School, Montgomery, AL

 

The inspiration for Trinity Presbyterian School to develop a cyber security education program came unexpectedly. A speech given by U.S. Air Force Gen. Steven Kwast to educational leaders in Montgomery’s River Region in 2016, where Trinity’s Head of School Kerry Palmer and Middle School/Upper School Principal Mike Zavada were in attendance, left them profoundly moved. “Kwast made us feel like we were on the front lines of battle here in Montgomery as well as across our borders nationally,” Zavada stated. “We are protecting new borders, the borders of cyberspace. Kwast’s enthusiasm and passion for cyber security were palatable when we listened to him that day.” 

 

“When he showed us the efforts underway by the Air Force and demonstrated the need for highly trained, intellectual thinkers, we thought we had a window into the future for our students beyond their college preparatory education,” Palmer said. Kwast reinforced his case when he added that there would be roughly 1.5 million highly paid jobs in cyber security by 2018. Palmer and Zavada knew they had to develop a cyber security education program at Trinity School.

 

However, the technical expertise to initiate a cyber security program does not happen without assistance. Shortly after Trinity’s introduction to the world of cyber security, help came from neighbors in the community. The Civil Air Patrol headquartered on Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery extended a generous offer to partner with Trinity faculty to develop a CyberPatriot program. The Civil Air Patrol is a congressionally chartered, federally supported, non-profit corporation that serves as the official civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. Through this partnership, Trinity faculty members received inspiration and expertise in STEM fields, especially those related to aviation and cyber security. With that connection, Trinity’s CyberPatriot partnership was born. 

 

CyberPatriot is the National Youth Cyber Education Program. At the center of CyberPatriot is the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition. The competition puts teams of high school and middle school students in the position of newly hired IT professionals tasked with managing the network of a small company. In fall 2017, Trinity students participated on the school’s first CyberPatriot teams and competed for a state championship, placing second in one division.

            

Around the same time, another rich partnership formed between two like-minded schools in Montgomery — Trinity School and Valiant Cross Academy (VCA). Trinity, with its nearly 50-year history as a leading Christian independent school in the region, was trying to open its school and the rich opportunities it offers to the larger Montgomery community. Meanwhile, brothers and educational innovators Anthony and Frederick Brock were looking to redefine what the education of urban males looked like in Montgomery and imbue it with a Christian focus. The brothers founded Valiant Cross Academy in 2015 to educate young male “scholars,” as each of the young men at VCA are called. 

 

In fall 2016, the administrative teams of the two schools brainstormed ways the two institutions with similar Christian missions could come together to have their respective students share experiences. That meeting and thoughtfulness amongst the respective faculty of the schools resulted in several key initiatives between the schools. Trinity’s Change 4 Change service drives last year secured new uniform blazers and ties for VCA scholars. Last spring, middle school students from both schools took classes together at Alabama State University to study cyber security and coding. This past summer, VCA faculty hosted a service opportunity working with urban youth in west Montgomery that Trinity faculty and student groups attended. In September, VCA’s first high school class (current freshmen), attended Trinity’s widely renowned college fair, putting these scholars in front of representatives from more than 50 colleges and universities. Now the combined Trinity/VCA CyberPatriot teams, and the Cyber Security Education Program, have brought the schools and their students together to learn. The hope is that this experience will foreshadow a future where the students work together in this burgeoning field as adults and where Montgomery becomes a hub for cyber security as city planners intend.  

            

Cyber security is an area which all independent schools should investigate now to prepare for its ubiquitous future. Trinity’s utilization of the SAIS Grant and purpose of their Cyber Security Education Program is threefold:

  • First, there is tangible evidence that the field will be featured prominently in the job market for many years to come. Per Cyber Security Ventures, the world’s leading researcher in the global cyber economy, there will be 3.5 million unfilled cyber security positions by 2021.
  • Secondly, cyber crime will cost the global economy roughly $6 trillion by the same year. There are both financial and patriotic reasons to train students now to play a role in this critical field for America.
  • The third reason, and the key reason for the partnership between the two schools, is so that VCA scholars can be exposed to career fields that will generate great prospects for them that have not been available to their families previously. 

The robust nature of the Cyber Security Education Program at Trinity would not have been possible without the hard work of two talented educators — Kerri Watson, Trinity’s science department chair, and Adam Peetway, VCA STEM teacher. Watson was part of the original team of Trinity faculty that met with the Civil Air Patrol to learn how to make STEM offerings at Trinity even more robust. “It has been such a blessing to see all 21 students filling the room, helping each other as they solved tough IT problems like professionals,” Watson said. “The level of collaboration has been incredible.” 

            

Since SAIS awarded the grant and since the partnerships materialized, the schools have taken stock of the process and outcomes of the endeavor. VCA Founder and Head of School Anthony Brock recently stated, “It has been an honor to partner with Trinity School to create opportunities to learn about cyber security. We are becoming increasingly excited about what the future outcomes will be for our scholars.” These sentiments were echoed by Palmer, who values the program because of the opportunities it provides, but even more so for the friendship kindled between the like-minded schools. “As a Christian school, Trinity endeavors to weave a biblical world and life view into our educational environment daily. Our friends at Valiant Cross do the same,” Palmer said. “While we may be working with students from different backgrounds, our aims are similar. By joining forces, we ultimately provide a rich and rewarding educational experience for students at both institutions, learn more about the world in which we live, and deliver on our common mission to impact this world for Christ. I can't imagine a better partnership!”

            

Students most intimately involved in the Cyber Security Education Program partnership had these points to make about the program: VCA student Jayden Roberts said, “My experience at Trinity helped me understand how to code and do different things on a computer. It also helped me to develop deeper thinking skills.” Trinity senior Peyton Langford responded, “The CyberPatriot program allows us to grow in our knowledge of technology. In addition to this, friendships are made with the wonderful, hardworking kids of Valiant Cross.” Trinity freshman and CyberPatriot team member Beck Tuley commented on the program’s uniqueness and the opportunities it presents for college bound students. “It’s a good experience because we get to learn something we wouldn’t normally get to learn until college. It feels like we are getting a head start on the rest of the nation.” 

                        

Going forward, the schools plan to expand the program and utilize the bountiful cyber resources in the River Region, including Maxwell Air Force Base’s Air War Cyber College — one of the most advanced cyber agencies in the world. Likewise, Troy University is a valued partner. Valiant Cross’ expanding upper school will be housed at Troy’s Montgomery campus and the schools have met with Troy officials to open computer science course options from the university to TPS/VCA students in the long term. The Cyber College and Troy are also expected to eventually provide mentors in cyber security for the CyberPatriot teams. Finally, Trinity plans to continue to grow and develop its Summer Cyber Academy, which gives students from the River Region a one-week CyberPatriot immersion.  

            

Trinity would like to thank the SAIS board and staff for providing the wonderful opportunity to pursue and earn the Collaboration Grant. The grant provided key resources to start the Cyber Security Program at Trinity. These resources purchased specially designed computers for the CyberPatriot teams, secured CyberPatriot team memberships, supported faculty professional development in the field of cyber security, and provided scholarships to students in need to the first Cyber Camp at Trinity. Beyond the financial resources, the grant process helped Trinity and VCA focus on what a meaningful partnership between two schools with very different histories, but a shared mission, should look like. Ultimately, they have prepared today’s middle and upper school students for a future of working together in a fruitful and patriotic environment. 

 


Calendar more
SAIS@NAIS PoCC
November 28, 2018 | Nashville, TN
Join SAIS and Vanderbilt for a PoCC reception on Wednesday, November 28.

Winter Conference
January 27-29 | Franklin, TN
SAIS Academic Support Conference, SAIS Athletic Directors Conference, MISBO-SAIS Auxiliary Programs Conference & MISBO-SAIS Finance Institute.



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