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EL DORADO -- Across the state, educators in public schools are pushing students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

But in El Dorado, they are doing something more: The high school is one of two public campuses in Arkansas to implement a special cybersecurity component through a pilot program, officials said.

The cybersecurity component comes at a time when Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson's education policy includes an emphasis on computer science courses.

Since the 2015-16 school year, Arkansas Code Annotated 6-16-146 has required that public high schools and public charter high schools offer at least one computer science course. One of the approved courses for the 2017-18 academic year, which starts next month, includes "Computer Science with Information Security Emphasis," according to a July 21 Arkansas Department of Education computer science education fact sheet.

Teacher Melissa Virden of El Dorado said she and teachers at West Memphis High School in Crittenden County are "working through the kinks" to craft the statewide frameworks.

"We're going to grow the computer science program from here," she said. "You have your basic introduction to computer science, then you have [cyber] literacy and then cyberscience and cybersociety."

Virden said she's "very excited" to start her first year at El Dorado High School, where she will teach computer business applications and computer science principles in addition to cybersecurity.

"For the community, you're going to have business leaders looking to hire from our local pool of people, and it could possibly bring people back to El Dorado and grow the community," Virden said. "If we can get them started here, get them educated here, then they'll stay here instead of moving off."

She hopes to collaborate with South Arkansas Community College in El Dorado, particularly to funnel high school participants into the college's Futures in Technology program.

SouthArk's Futures in Technology program provides junior and senior high school students the opportunity to take two college courses in subjects such as information technology essentials, principles of information assurance and visual basic. Upon completion, students receive high school and college credit that can be applied toward technical certificates or degrees.

Pre-engineering teacher Jacob Roberson said there are also possible opportunities for industry-recognized accreditation in the program, which is modeled after a curriculum created by engineers with several years of on-the-job experience.

"All of the stuff that we're doing and we're teaching is stuff that they will see in the real world, so we're going to spend a lot of time with a program called Autodesk Inventor. That's a program that a lot of industries use. My cousin actually got a job because of this program, because he had four years of using this program," Roberson said.

Roberson recently attended a training session conducted by industry leaders from around the country. An Autodesk Inventor certification allowed one of his instructor's high school students to intern at an area company.

The four-year program is "geared more toward younger students" and will start off with an introduction to engineering design course. The program will provide students with skills in engineering drawing, computer modeling and problem solving. In comparison with other courses that integrate math and science, the pre-engineering program allows students to be creative, he said.

"We're going to be talking about what is engineering, what engineers do, what are different career paths. ... We're going to move on from that and talk about how they do it," he said. "I'm going to be there to teach them how to use the tools they have, but then they're going to put them to use. They're going to come up with everything.

"It's all on them, which is a really cool thing."

State Desk on 07/30/2017

Print Headline: 2 high schools in state to offer pilot program in cybersecurity

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