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Local high school students receive cyber security training for in-demand jobs

BUENA VISTA, Va. – There are 36,000 unfilled Virginia technology jobs that have a starting pay of $88,000.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe said those jobs can either be filled or go to another state. When it comes to keeping those salaries and opportunities in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe - a governor who prides himself in job creation, like many state leaders and educators, want them to stay here, benefiting the local economy.

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As computer science is added as part of the core curriculum for K-12 students in Virginia, one local high school is making sure their students are prepared for the job.

Parry McCluer High School in Buena Vista is training its students to succeed in one of the most in-demand sectors.

From the computer science classroom at Parry McCluer High School, senior Blake Funkhouser is watching live cyberattacks happening around the world. 

"If you watch the lines, you can see (that) there is stuff coming from here to here. There's a lot of action happening here,” Funkhouser explained while pointing at animated circles on a geographical map of the world indicating where those attacks are happening.

He showed 10 News that many of those attacks are happening in the United States.     

"A lot of stuff coming from China," Funkhouser said. He and his classmates are essentially learning how to stop them.

"We are learning the basics of hacking and cybersecurity," Funkhouser said.

The classes are part of a new statewide curriculum started this year.

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Under the supervision of Donna Frazier and through a partnership with Dabney S. Lancaster Community College, Parry McCluer is one of the first high schools in the state to offer these dual enrollment courses. Not only will students taking the courses learn valuable skills that can help jumpstart their career, protect themselves and their families from hackers, but it’s also giving them college credits while earning their high school diploma.
     
Senior Jamie Hartless said he hopes to use the skills learned in the classroom to build his career, and secure a job in a technology-based world.

"A lot of them (jobs) really are starting to be computer based. Pretty much everything involves computers at this point,” Hartless said.
     
Those jobs that are in high demand are currently available across the Commonwealth.
     

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"There are thousands of jobs. People don't have the skills to do them right now, especially in northern and eastern Virginia. They are desperate to get people that have skills for the job,” Hartless said.

Hartless is just one of the students that Frazier has stressed that point to. Frazier understands that the demand is not only in Virginia, but across the country and has worked with many other high schools and universities working to implement the same programs. Although she instructs the students through multiple courses, including Introduction to Computer Applications and Concepts, Web Design and Cybersecurity Fundamentals as well as helping students earn Microsoft Academy certifications, she gives all the credit to her students.

In fact, every other day many of her students help teach basic computer courses in the city elementary schools. Not only are her high-tech students mentoring peers and younger classmates in the public school system, they are also computer gurus at home. Many students like Funkhouser admit to teaching their parents how to stay safe on the internet.

"They don't really know a lot about this,” Funkhouser said. “So every time we have to set up an account I have to help them or if they buy anything online I have to do it.”

Funkhouser and Hartless like many others have taken multiple courses at the school. Frazier said another new offering will be available next semester. Frazier, like educators across the country are hoping to attract more females to these courses.

"There are so many jobs that nobody has filled,” said high school senior Kelsey Johnson. Being the only girl in the class hasn't held her back. 

“I find it interesting,” Johnson said.

She knows the ins and outs of coding and cybersecurity. While she says she is undecided on what career path she wants to take after high school, Johnson is keeping her options to a technology-based profession open.

"Technology is growing. People need to have these kinds of things but the smaller schools might not offer these kinds of things so I think it's nice that we have these classes so we can keep up," Johnson said.

 Progressive courses taught in these small, rural classrooms are preparing these students to play a role in a world-leading industry not only now but in the future.


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