After a year of being shut down due to COVID restrictions, the Cyber Security Club at Silver High School and La Plata Middle School has returned to action. The club is led by Rusty Nations, who has been the sponsor and coach of the club since its start four years ago.
The CyberPatriot Security program has been running nationwide for 14 years, and Silver Schools has been participating for the past four. Schools compete in a North American competition, with more than 3,000 teams competing at the middle school and high school level.
“We currently have one high school team, which consists of three students, and we have two middle school teams with a total of seven students,” Nations said. “A team consists of two to five students, and I had seven middle school students, so I split them into two teams.”
Teams compete by seeking and fixing flaws in computer systems, he said.
“It is the idea that you take these kids, and you are basically setting them up as IT professionals,” Nations said. “They have a Windows or Linux computer that they have to defend — they make changes on the operating system to make them more secure and less likely to get hacked.”
Nations’ son, Ryan, is in the seventh grade and is participating in the club for the first time.
“I really enjoy it,” he said. “I like learning to keep people out of computers. I’m also thinking of pursuing a career in cybersecurity, so this club is really helpful.”
This year, teams at both schools have started off strong.
“Our CyberPatriot kids, after the first round for the middle school team, we had one team that was 34th and one team that was 92nd overall out of 520 teams,” Nations said. “The high school was about 1,400 out of about 2,200 teams.”
Teams just finished competition in round two last Friday, he said.
“They had a tough round,” Nations said. “We scored 161, and the other team was 170 out of 544.”
Next month, on Dec. 10, will be the state-round competition, and the teams’ place there will determine their place among programs statewide. Students will earn a plaque or certificate that will be sent to the school, Nations said.
“This is a program that Mr. Nations has been able to pick up prior to me coming here. He has been doing it largely on fundraising and support from the parents,” said Silver Schools Superintendent William Hawkins. “The schools, up until this year, have not been too involved with the program. We look forward to partnering with him and the work he has done with the students moving forward.”
Before Nations brought the program to the district, there weren’t any options for kids interested in pursuing cybersecurity, whether as a career or a hobby — or any other computer-related activities, for that matter.
“The idea behind starting the program to begin with was giving the kids another option for extracurricular activities,” Nations said. “There’s not always an option that’s given to kids besides athletics and band. There really hasn’t been anything offered before I started this program for kids interested in computers and learning about them, and that is where this came from.”
“CyberPatriots is fun,” said Tyler Peterson, a Silver High junior. “I’ve enjoyed being on the team these past four years.”
Tyler’s sister, Hailey, who goes to La Plata Middle School, is another new member.
“My first year on the team has been exciting,” she said. “Competition is tough — all the hard work at practice pays off.”
Nations said that while it’s too late to join the club, since the season is almost over, new members are welcome for next year.
“I have La Plata and Silver High put in the announcements for any kids that want to join the club at the beginning of the school year,” Nations said. “We accept new students until November 1 or so, depending on the deadline set by the national program.”