When students at Davison Elementary-Middle School (DEMS) get pulled out of class, they're not in trouble -- it's because they have a job to do. An elite team of 23 students at DEMS, a school of about 700 in the Detroit Public Schools system, are the Techno Dragons. Launched in 2010 as a way to build student confidence and skillsets while providing fast and friendly service to the school, the Techno Dragons provide first-level technical support for the school's computer equipment, and they set up equipment for school events.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder lauded the program at the 2015 North American International Cyber Summit (NAICS) on Oct. 26 as a worthy template for schools around the nation pursuing early technical education for students.
"This is how we should be engaging our students," Snyder said.
Of the 23 Techno Dragons, 16 are girls, and all have a grade point average above 2.8, as maintaining good grades is a requisite to join. The program is also usually only open to students who are at least in the fifth grade. The club needs requisites or it might get bigger than the school could handle.
"Every day, I get asked at least 50 times, ‘Can I be on the Dragon team?’ A lot of kids want to be Dragons, every day, all day long," LaDora Young, the teacher who started the program, told Yak's Corner Magazine earlier this year.
The program is unique, Young explained, because anyone can Google a computer problem and try to fix it themselves -- but using students to fix the program provides the school a better level of customer service and gives the students a chance to build their customer service skills.
Other responsibilities of the Techno Dragons include setting up audio and video equipment for school events and recording them, video editing, working on the school yearbook, graphic design work, and teaching kindergarten and first grade technology classes.
Reports indicate that students and faculty enjoy the program, but the big picture for the Techno Dragons is that these students could grow up to be software developers or cybersecurity experts, and they might end up owing it to their early start in technology.
Michigan's governor encouraged other schools to follow their lead, from the elementary level up to the university. With attack numbers mounting daily on the cybersecurity front, the nation could use more students trained in cybersecurity and ready to protect networks.
Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich., is among the few institutions offering degrees in information security and intelligence. The FSU program was created with help from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon, and investigative agencies to provide students with realistic training in information security, visual analysis, data mining and digital forensics.