Cybersecurity classes offered at PCHS

New cybersecurity class offers ways to be safe, insight into growing industry

One morning during third period, Port Chester High School computer science teacher Virginia Peterson Jadav had students read user privacy policies from large companies, including Google, Snapchat and Instagram. They then discussed the information they learned. Students noted that Snapchat gives information to a third party, that Google tracks voice and audio messages and that Instagram shares information with Facebook and Messenger.

Finding this information to review on the company’s websites proved to be a challenge in many instances.

“Corporations send you on a wild goose chase,” Ms. Peterson Jadav said to her students. “They are very savvy.”

The assignment was part of the new cybersecurity class being taught at PCHS. Ms. Peterson Jadav was hired by the district as the first computer science teacher six years ago. She taught courses on coding but began to realize that “computer science” includes much more, like Information Technology and networking. Having a class about cybersecurity came to mind when she began thinking of ways to grow the program.  

“These kids are digital natives” and have grown up with technology, Ms. Peterson Jadav said while on a break between classes one October morning during Cybersecurity Safety month. “But that does not mean they are digitally literate.”

She said that while students’ computer skills have improved from several months of remote learning caused by the pandemic, there are some things that simply need to be taught in order to use the technology safely.

“It’s a skill you can use right now,” said senior Alexander Tenesaca, discussing the concepts he has learned in class. “The way she teaches is really like a life lesson.”

Sophomore Nataly Garcia signed up for the class because she wanted to continue learning more about her interest in coding. “I took coding and I’ve liked it ever since,” she said.

During the class, the conversation turned to internet safety and steps that students can take to protect themselves. Among them are to be wary of people they don’t know on the internet, be careful about what personal information they share and to reach out to someone they trust if they ever feel uncomfortable on social media. “Err on the side of caution,” Ms. Peterson Jadav said.

The student response to the new course was surprising. “I have three sections – that’s 75 kids,” she said. “That’s 60% of my day teaching cybersecurity. I knew it would be popular, but not this popular.”

One of the reasons she feels that students are drawn to the class is because the topic has been prevalent in the news recently. In addition, it is a growing industry. Furthermore, students are drawn to the seamier side; they want to know how illusive hackers work.

“I’ve been interested in technology and I thought taking this class would be a cool thing to do,” junior Jonatan Gramajo said. “Being safe on the internet is important. The internet has lot of bad things on it, just like it has good.”

Additionally, Jonatan said that technology is not a field that is going to slow down anytime soon. “Who knows how many jobs there will be in the future,” he said.

“Computer science, we know, is a field you can fill - cybersecurity is a subset of that,” Ms. Peterson Jadav said. She added that cybersecurity consists of the means to to keep private data safe and secure computer systems.

Current events related to technology are often discussed in class, including the recent news story about the Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower who testified before Congress about the company and her opinion of its dangerous practices when it comes to children. Also, cyberbullying is an issue that students are familiar with, either they know someone who has been a victim or have experienced it themselves.

“There was a summit at the White House this past summer about cybersecurity,” said Ms. Peterson Jadav. “One of the areas that was highlighted was cybersecurity education. I think we will see more schools offering classes about it. It’s the next big thing in computer science.”

Ms. Peterson Jadav said she hopes the class will help students better understand how computer systems work and how to use them safely.

“Having that fundamental knowledge will be very beneficial for them moving forward,” she said.

Ms. Peterson Jadav said that she is already planning a continuation of this particular course next year and that students will have an opportunity to extend their studies of cybersecurity.

In mid-October, the district began hosting a series of technology workshops for families. As part of this series, Ms. Peterson Jadav will be presenting an evening on cybersecurity on Nov. 22. Details are available on the district website: www.portchesterschools.org.