For 233 teens at Arabia Mountain High, playing video games may be a path to gainful employment.
The Stonecrest school is one of top 10 in the metro area where students are vying for scholarships, prizes and potential jobs in the cybersecurity field. By playing the free CyberStart game, they’re putting their skills to use to work through levels of security problems that aren’t just fun and challenging: They’re an introduction to the industry.
The game is part of a program overseen by the CyberStart America in Georgia Task Force, led by the University of North Georgia. The goal is to recruit more people to the field where the jobs are plentiful, said UNG’s Lindsay Linsky.
“There are over 750,000 unfilled jobs around the country,” she said. “With this game, students can go from knowing nothing to being employable in about a year if they pass the game and earn a certificate.”
The game is also a way to attract a diverse workforce, said Linsky. “A wide variety of cyber problems needs a wide variety of cyber people. Too often we hear misconceptions that ‘people like me don’t do cyber.’ This is a game to help set those misconceptions aside and let students discover their cyber talents.”
Arabia has such a high number of players thanks in part to a committed teacher and strong support from the school’s administration and district, said Linsky. Together they’ve worked to let reduce student doubts about a topic they may not be familiar with.
“Cybersecurity is so new, so technical, that students often shy away from it without giving it a try,” she said.
Arabia Mountain physics teacher Steven Thedford introduced his students to the game last fall after attending a cyber summer camp.
“That’s how I got into being an ethical hacker,” said Thedford.
Thedford tries to give his 11th graders some cyber play time in his class sessions and often joins in, but he also sees students in 10th through 12th grades engaging throughout the day.
“They play so many games that this is something they feel comfortable with,” he said. “It’s a game that keeps them playing. In my classes, it’s a little break from the norm.”
He’s also been asked by others why he’s teaching his students to hack.
“There’s a bit of a learning curve for some because the idea is so new,” he said. “But ethical hacking is totally different, and ethics are a cornerstone of any cyber classroom. Players have to sign an ethical agreement. The whole point is to train them to be ethical hackers.”
Players who rack up 20,000 points qualify for scholarships. Thedford has six who have met that goal, and more are on track to beat it by April 4, when the game will end.
Meanwhile, students interested in playing can still join in by going to cyberstartameria.org and registering.
Information about Arabia Mountain is online at arabiamtnhs.dekalb.k12.ga.us.
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution