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SAISD launches new era in cybersecurity training

cybersecurityIt took more than a little while to get here. Several years, in fact. 

But SAISD students are now competing on a bold new stage.

"I started asking about this way back in 2019," said Konise Millender, SAISD CTE Coordinator for College, Career and Military Readiness.

The SAISD CTE Department hosted its first Cyber Threat Defender competition for middle school students on March 31. Cyber Threat Defender has been described as “Dungeons and Dragons” for cyber security. 

“This is the first time we have had a Cyber Threat Defender tournament at all. Ever,” Millender said. “We scheduled an event for March 2020, but then COVID happened. The good thing about the time during COVID, the things that grew were Cyber, IT, Computer Science, and kids needed something to do. One of the things the teachers could do, was play Cyber Threat Defender. They couldn’t at first, because it’s a card game. UTSA then figured out a way to play it online.”

UTSA has been SAISD’s partner in this effort from the start and facilitated the March 31 tournament. Schools participating in the event included Hot Wells Middle School, along with the Young Men's Leadership Academy, CAST Tech High School and Cyber P-Tech USA at Sam Houston High School. Participation prepares students eager to level up to Cyber Patriot competition, which is an advanced stage. At the Cyber Patriot stage, the action moves from cards and boards to a fully online cybersecurity competition experience.

“The middle school involvement is key. The middle schoolers are on their heels, and they will keep practicing and practicing to get better. Our goal is to take those students to bigger tournaments, and to funnel new talent into our Cyber Patriot teams,” said Millender. “I really liked seeing all the kids come together, because even before we started, they were scouting the room, looking around and meeting new friends,” Millender said. “It was that networking that the students never get to do. Which is exactly what we want them to do.”

Winners at the March 31 inaugural tournament included Cyber P-Tech High School teams walking away with both first and third place finishes. CAST Tech High School captured second place and had another team earn the “Rising Star” honorable mention. The main thing is all the students left the event wanting more.

“They kept asking, ‘When’s the next tournament?’ And we hadn’t even announced the winners from that tournament yet,” Millender said. “Biggest takeaway for our students is that cybersecurity is everybody’s concern. No matter how young you are, you need to learn to keep yourself safe on your laptop, your Chromebook, whatever. The people on the other side of the screen trying to scam you don’t care how old you are. We want them to be cyber aware.”

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