Queens high school students rejoice, to receive cyber security, military training

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Jessica Baba, 15, a student of Queens High School knows little about computer science. However, by next fall, she hopes to be one of a relatively few students across the United States to learn how to protect the United States against cyberattacks.

Jessica, a freshman at Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical Education High School in Queens, will learn about the complex systems and principles around cybersecurity through the school’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, known as JROTC.

The long-running JROTC is a military-backed “character development” high school curriculum where students learn about citizenship and leadership skills, as well as Army basics such as commands and salutes.

Students are not required to enter military service upon graduation.

Starting this September, Queens school will be one of two in New York City and one of 12 across the country to tie this program to a four-year curriculum about cybersecurity, which aims to set students up for careers in cybersecurity as the sector sees a worker shortage.

“I don’t know much about computer science and cybersecurity; I know it’s something that’s very important to this country and it’s also important to all countries because we live in a very digital age,” Jessica said.

“And so I thought that would be interesting — at least it would be a skillset that would be valuable.”

The school, which offers 13 career and technical education pathways that students can pursue, is well positioned to take on the new program, school officials said.

They’ve offered coursework in cybersecurity for three years, now officially one of their CTE pathways. Now, linking it with JROTC means that students will get both the “industry” side of things and also learn from Army officials who are working “behind the scenes” to curb cyberattacks, said Moses A. Ojeda, the school’s principal.

Students still can opt to take JROTC on its own, too, Ojeda said.

“When your kid comes out of here, imagine them being able to say, ‘Hey, I know how to protect a company’s infrastructure, but at the same time I also know what it takes to protect if I were to work in the Army,’” Ojeda said.

Any student can join JROTC, which works like an elective course, and can specifically choose to do the cyber program.

Once they’re enrolled, students will learn about various facets of cybersecurity, such as protecting, securing and destroying data, and risk management, in addition to the ethical guidelines of the field.

They’ll also learn to program in various languages, including Python and Java.

Currently, the school has budgeted about $300,000 over the next two years for the program, which covers costs like staff, according to Noah Angeles, the head of the principals union’s military veterans committee.

Angeles initially pushed the school to pursue the opportunity and advocated to get city funding for the program. The city will front the startup costs, and half is expected to be covered by the federal government, Angeles said.

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