Forest School Charter CyberPatriots program focuses on cyber knowledge, integrity
Children of the ‘80s likely remember the film WarGames.
The Mathew Broderick movie explored a teenager’s knack for computer hacking and the trouble that ensues when he nearly starts a nuclear war.
In 1983, teenagers operating personal computers were rare. Today, it’s tough to find a child who doesn’t have access to one.
That access presents a lot of advantages. It also presents the potential for a lot of problems. While starting World War III may be farfetched, causing major problems isn’t.
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That’s where Heather Buck and the Forest Charter School CyberPatriot program comes in.
“There are an awful lot of young people playing around on their computers and doing things without any training in integrity,” said Buck, who’s mentored the program for the past three years.
“They might easily get into trouble because they develop skills and they might think, ‘Oh, this is cool, let’s do this.’ What I don’t want for those kids is to all of the sudden have the CIA or someone on their doorstep talking to their parents saying, ‘Hey, this happened from your household.’ That’s not going to happen with my students.”
CyberPatriot is a program centered around the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition, which creates a scenario where the teams are IT professionals managing a small company network. They’re given virtual images that represent the company’s operating system and asked to find cyber security vulnerabilities while maintaining service over a six-hour period.
The program, Buck said, exists to teach kids about cyber security and computers in general. More importantly, CyberPatriots teaches integrity.
“As we train you, that doesn’t give you license to go out and hack into other people’s computers,” Buck said. “There are some very high profile cases that have happened even with young people. The worst punishment is they never get to touch a computer again.”
Students are required to sign an integrity contract to participate, and outside professionals frequently address students on the importance of technological responsibility.
Forest Charter currently has five boys on the middle school team. Buck has mentored a high school squad in the past but didn’t have enough interest to field a team this year. Students must be in sixth grade to compete.
The season runs from October through February but the teams train throughout the academic year.
“We’re at the point of recruiting, and I could easily make more teams,” Buck said.
She added that students don’t have to compete to get involved in the program.
“I’m encouraging kids to come practice and start to learn about it to see if they like it and see if they’re interested in this long term,” she said. “They may want to learn but may not want to compete.”
The program uses a number of additional mentors, including Heather’s husband, Terry Buck, who owns a computer repair business, Golden Briar Computer Services.
“The tricky thing with CyberPatriots is that nobody knows everything,” Heather Buck said. “So I’m happy to have other professionals come and talk to the boys about other topics.”
To contact Staff Writer Stephen Roberson, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
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