Louisa to Launch Cybersecurity Academy

Jan 3, 2021

With about 35,000 tech security jobs available in Virginia, a small rural high school plans to launch a cybersecurity academy, and it will get a big grant from the federal government to do so. 

Before the pandemic hit, students at Louisa High School learned how to maintain and repair laptops and tablets given to every child in the district.  Now they staff the schools' help desk.
Credit Louisa County Public Schools

Louisa is a rural county between Charlottesville and Richmond with a small school district -- just over 5,000 kids, but it’s determined to graduate students who can compete globally.  Superintendent Doug Straley knew that there were thousands of jobs available in cybersecurity, so when the U.S. Department of Education offered $100,000 grants for innovative online programs, Straley proposed an academy to train high school kids in that field.

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the field of cybersecurity will increase by almost 30% by 2026," he said.  "To be able to position our students to be able to take advantage of some of those opportunities – it’s great.”   

Already, Louisa High School had trained some kids to work on the laptops and tablets given to all 5,000 students in the district.

“They run our student help desk,” says Kenneth Bouwens, Director of Career and Technical Education, STEAM and Innovation. “Anywhere from troubleshooting basic software issues to tearing into Chromebooks and iPads and repairing parts of the devices, and this is just another level of that.”

Bowens and five other administrators sat down to brainstorm and craft a grant proposal.

“Getting students in the door is the most important part – so giving them the basic skills they need for entry level, because as I think anybody knows, you learn the most on the job,” Bouwens says.

High school students could spend all four years taking courses in the academy or opt for a two-year program followed by an internship.

“They may be working from their homes on a computer.  They may never set foot in any building, but they may be working with professionals and industry leaders from anywhere in the country.”

The program will start next fall, and Superintendent Straley hopes to accommodate at least 40 kids in the first year.

“It wasn’t something we put out there:  Hey, we’re going to be starting this program, because we didn’t know we were going to be receiving the  funds or not until about a week ago, so now that it’s getting out I anticipate that it will have quite a bit of interest, and I’m very excited about that.”

And Bouwens is excited about staffing options.  Since part of the program will be virtual, instructors could be drafted from the private sector or from government.  He figures proximity to Washington could really help.

“It wasn’t something I thought of to be honest when I wrote the grant, because I think we just take for granted where we live, but a best friend of mine reached out to me the day after the news story broke, and he worked for the Pentagon, and started talking about resources and links, and he said, ‘You know where I live, I’m only about an hour awasy.’”

After two years the Department of Education will review progress, evaluating Louisa’s academy and the efforts of four other communities that won grants in Michigan, Texas, California and Kentucky.  The most successful of those programs will win $100,000 more.