May 22, 2023
If you had asked Little Elm High School graduating senior Gabriela Vasconcelos what she wanted to be back when she was in elementary school, she would have told you she wanted to be a neurosurgeon. But if you ask her today, she has changed her mind in a way that may surprise you. “When I took the Tech Apps course in middle school, I didn’t even know how to open my Google Drive,” Vasconcelos said. “But I learned more about computers and programs and then wanted to be a web developer.” Her career dream grew much bigger than that as she advanced through her education at Little Elm High School.
Manuel Castillo, a teacher at Little Elm ISD who has taught dual language at Hackberry, Tech Apps at Prestwick and Strike, and is now teaching computer science at LEHS to quite a few familiar faces, like Vasconcelos. And he’s doing something almost unheard of in public school with at least four of the students he taught when they were in 6th grade.
“We started a discussion in class when they were in 9th grade and the topic of cybersecurity came up,” said Castillo. Unfortunately, that year, the world shut down and their plan to learn about cybersecurity was put on pause like the rest of the world. “We came back that next year and put a plan in place to see what we needed to do in two years to certify students in network and security plus, and penetration testing, also known as ethical hacking. We were determined we could actually do this,” said Castillo. The students had a strong desire to learn everything about cybersecurity and ethical hacking.
Ramirez described studying for the certification as rigorous, difficult, and time-consuming. “We have a large wall with a big blue piece of paper on it. When we were all studying, we would write everything we retained and needed to know. The information was constantly in front of us for review,” she said.
One public school in the San Antonio area offers classes on cybersecurity, but according to Castillo, few schools are giving students the hands-on application, especially when it comes to pen testing certifications, because it’s such a delicate area. “We follow legal protocols because that is important to remember. When we’re doing pen testing, there is a fine line and we need to make sure we don’t cross it because there are legal ramifications and these students know that. Everything we do has to be planned, prepared, and researched. We are fortunate the District allowed us to do this.”
Cybersecurity jobs are in demand. According to Sans.org, the information security industry is expected to reach 3.5 million unfulfilled positions this year and has named cyberattacks as the fourth serious global concern. They list 20 of the coolest jobs, such as Threat Hunter, Digital Forensics Analyst, Incident Response Team member, and OSINT Investigator, just to name a few.
Little Elm High School has prepared four students for a future in cybersecurity. In one year, Vaconcelos earned two certifications in Network and Security Plus, Ramierz earned a certification in Security Plus, Semancik earned three certifications in Pen Testing, Network and Security Plus, and Florentino earned two certifications in Network and Security Plus. After school is out for the summer, they will continue to meet with Castillo to work on obtaining Pen Test certifications.
Castillo said these certifications qualify these high school seniors for an entry level position as a security analyst with an annual salary of $68,000 per year. With enough education and experience, they can advance their career and earn an average of $113,000 per year. However, the current LEHS graduates have plans to attend a university and major in computer science.