Cybersecurity, networking students at James Clemens on track for careers

MADISON – At James Clemens High School, Pam Paquette describes her students as out-of-the-box thinkers and courageous creators. These teenagers are mastering cybersecurity and networking.

Since 1996, Paquette has worked in computing, having taught A+ Certification and Microsoft TCP/IP Certification. Her husband, a career engineer, also works in cybersecurity and networking.

“When the option to teach at James Clemens came about, it was natural that I would take it,” Paquette said. She teaches Cybersecurity I, Cybersecurity II and Networking.

James Clemens also offers Networking Fundamentals. Paquette uses Cyber.org curriculum (receiving funding from CISA or Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency) because it meshes well with CompTIA Security+ and Network+ Certifications. She augments curriculum with CompTIA’s TestOut LabSims for all three classes, along with books from CompTIA Study Materials and Practice Exams.

Prerequisite for Networking is IT Fundamentals or APCS Principles. Cybersecurity I, students must have completed Networking. Cybersecurity is prerequisite for Cybersecurity II. “Next year, we’ll offer a fourth course for Job Shadowing or Internships,” Paquette said.

Cybersecurity I has  22 students; Cybersecurity II, 4; and Networking, 18. “The problem is that no one required Cyber students to take networking before Cyber. (It’s) very difficult to understand how to secure something if you don’t understand how it works,” she said.

Paquette’s solution for next year was to place prerequisites in the ‘Cybersecurity Pathway” in order: IT Fundamentals, Networking, Cyber I, Cyber II and finally Senior Career Pathway Project.

Paquette’s students “truly value creating applicable code and programs that can be used in their careers. These kids . . . help each other along the way to create apps that better the community at large.”

“Students (in) these classes have a love for learning and think like engineers. They’re typically quiet students focused on their career goals,” Paquette said. “I would sum them up as being ‘nerds,’ which I am a nerd, and I wear that with PRIDE.”

To expand the program, Paquette plans to market the courses to the student body during Curriculum Night . . . “to draw in kids that aren’t typical so they can try it out.”

Goals for Paquette’s courses include build-out of a network for Esports students’ practice in her room. Also for Networking class, “we’ll be working toward a CompTIA Network+ Certification, an industry-standard exam that costs $358 each. James Clemens provides students with one free exam.”

For Cybersecurity I, students must perform a physical pentest (or penetration test, which is a simulated cyberattack) of the school building and write a professional report on their findings for administrators.

For Cybersecurity II, a goal is taking the industry-certification exam from CompTIA Security+, which costs $392; James Clemens provides one opportunity. “I’ve set a goal for the kids who must achieve 90 percent or better consistently on practice exams before I suggest taking the actual exam,” Paquette said.

Cybersecurity is timely, considering “numerous phishing, vishing, malware, ransomware and nation-state threat actors, like the recent Microsoft network breach through password-spraying by Russian-state hackers,” Paquette said. “We’re studying all these and ways to build firewalls” to deter hackers and secure data.

After completing these courses, students will have two industry-recognized certifications to assist in entering their careers. “I’ve been trying to convince the kids to get their foot in the door for a job and find a company that will help them pay for future education, either for certifications or college courses,” Paquette said.

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