Cybersecurity Pathway Stems From K-12, Higher Ed Partnership

Maryland schools and colleges are collaborating on a smooth pathway to a higher ed degree.

(TNS) — CUMBERLAND -- The Allegany County Board of Education is launching a new program that will allow high school students to receive a college degree in cybersecurity.

The P-Tech program -- Pathways in Technology Education College High School -- was created in Maryland in 2016, in collaboration with IBM. The program blends high school, college and workplace experience for participating students.

Incoming freshman who enroll in P-Tech are placed on a path to obtain an Associate of Arts degree from Allegany College of Maryland at no cost.

This fall will be the first freshman group of students, known as a cohort, to participate in P-Tech.

The Allegany County Public School System was one of only a few school districts in Maryland to be awarded a P-Tech planning grant to add the program at its high schools.

Kim Kalbaugh, chief academic officer, gave a presentation on the program to the school board last week.

"We are very excited to bring you these updates today," Kalbaugh said. "It will begin in the fall. We are at 21 students currently and our maximum capacity is 25 students so we have discussed trying to get that number up to the 25 by offering it on a first-come, first-served basis to our students in the ninth grade."

The cost of college level courses will be covered by the school system.

"This is an opportunity for many of our economically disadvantaged students in our district to get a free college degree," Kalbaugh said. "It means a lot to our students and it means a lot to our parents. They didn't know how to do it, but they wanted the best for their kids."

Kalbaugh explained how the program works.

"Students will be in their home schools in grades nine and 10 and go to the Career Center (Center for Career and Technical Education in Cresaptown) in grades 11 and 12 and intersperse throughout, taking college course work depending on their sequence. We have accelerated programs, of four or five years, or a more traditional program of six years."

Kalbaugh and Candy Canan, CCTE principal, will be advisers for the program. Kalbaugh said Melissa Kaye will be the program's coordinator. Kaye has been in the school system for 18 years as an educator, tech infusion specialist and STEM coordinator. Her background includes computer science, computer logic and physics.

"With her experience and her ability to work with students, we're going to have a nice increase over the next few years in P-Tech," said Kalbaugh. "Melissa will work with higher education and our business and industry folks because it is integral to the P-Tech experience. She will work with students to ensure they have the college experience and work with job shadowing and internship experiences."

The P-Tech program includes internships (some paid) with area businesses.

Kaye said the first cohort is made up of five students from Allegany, four from Fort Hill, and 12 from Mountain Ridge.

"The parents, I have to tell you, meeting with them one on one ... some of the these parents, they were like 'thank you, thank you, thank you. I never went to college; no one in my family went to college. This is the only way that we could get into college. We didn't know how to do this,'" said Kaye.

Depending on how fast a student wants to obtain the Associate of Arts degree, the program can involve summer work and online courses.

Kaye said students can begin to take courses at ACM when they arrive at that point. The four-year track will be challenging for the students.

"They have options," said Kaye. "They will have to do summer school and take college. I really foresee a lot of kids switched to a five-year plan. Four-year is tough. They will have five computer classes per semester."

"If it is not working and it is too rigorous of a course load, we can back away and go to the five-year (plan). So it is tailored to each student," said Kalbaugh.

Kaye said she will monitor progress along with a "college coach" who will be assigned to the student to make sure they are on track.

"They will also be given a mentor," said Kaye. "Someone in the computer science field. If they have questions or frustrations they can talk to them."

For school systems to apply for the P-Tech grant, they had to have a local business participate to offer students workforce experiences. Kaye said the Western Maryland Health System is the local business partner.

"A hospital doesn't sound like an interesting partnership. But think about it ... what data is the most secure that can't be hacked? You cannot get out and get hacked, that is the medical field."

Exclamation Labs, The Greater Cumberland Committee and the Rotary Club are also program partners, as is ACM.

"We are fortunate to be a partner with Allegany College in many ways, but most recently with the P-Tech opportunity," said David Cox, superintendent of schools. "I'm excited and looking forward to interacting with our first cohort of P-Tech kids. It's an amazing opportunity to be part of a group that is a cohort that the terminal point is an Associate of Arts degree. This is in a field that is in high demand so the students who complete this are very marketable and go directly into the world of work in a field that they have learned about and it is virtually no cost to the students.

"Governor (Larry) Hogan actually promoted this and we were fortunate to get a planning grant so we have a lot of people to thank. The Western Maryland Delegation really promoted this for us. It has been a group effort among a lot of people," said Cox.

Kaye said the local IBM offices at Rocket Center, West Virginia, have also expressed interest in assisting the P-Tech program.

She said transferring rights, known as articulation agreements, are also being arranged with Frostburg State University.

Officials said the P-Tech program will be in demand.

"If there are more than 25 students (applying) we will do a lottery," said Kaye. "We did not have to do a lottery this time. Since we have four openings, it will be first-come, first-served."

For more information on the program, contact Kaye at 301-759-2401 or by email at melissa.kaye@acpsmd.org.

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©2017 the Cumberland Times News (Cumberland, Md.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.