Teaching kids about cyber safety


Posted Aug 17, 2018

Monty Tech students speak to Gardner youths about keeping information secure online.

GARDNER — A group of current and former Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School students with computer savvy gave important lessons about cyber security to children attending the Boys & Girls Club of Gardner summer program.

Two of the workshop leaders were Alex Commodore of Gardner and Nicholas Sullivan of Fitchburg, both graduates of Monty Tech.

They spoke to the Boys & Girls Club children, who range from ages 8 to 12, on Thursday at Gardner Middle School where the Summer Blast program was held.

“I feel like it’s beneficial that every student has access to this knowledge,” Sullivan said. “We have to teach students to be safe online.”

A variety of topics were covered relating to cyber security, including an explanation of how wireless internet works for cell phones and laptops.

How to reduce the risk from threats such as hackers and viruses was a main discussion point.

One of the tips Commodore gave was to make sure to set a strong password for any device or account.

He spoke about all the valuable, personal information that can be exposed online, saying it is really important for the children to understand that and take steps to protect themselves.

Commodore said he graduated from Monty Tech this year and will be going on to study computer information systems at Fitchburg State University.

As he furthers his studies and prepares for a career, he said he “wants to make a difference” with any job he ends up getting.

Sullivan said he graduated two years ago from Monty Tech and is now studying computer science at UMass Dartmouth.

Rebekah Smith, a 10-year-old who lives in Gardner, was one of the children particularly engaged with the presentation on cyber security, answering some of the questions that were asked and remembering what was taught.

“It was pretty much all exciting. We got to learn how to know what is what,” she said.

Commodore and Sullivan were joined by a few other current or former Monty Tech students. All of them were either in the information technology or engineering vocational program at the school, and also were in the Marine Corps JROTC (Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program taught by Marine Corps veteran Paul Jornet.

Jornet said students of his have participated in the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot program which promotes STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning.

National competitions are held for CyberPatriot, which Jornet said Monty Tech has competed in and won before.

When he told his students about the opportunity to pass on some of their knowledge to the Boys & Girls Club children in Gardner, he said “they volunteered right away to help out.”

Jornet spoke about cyber security as being increasingly important, whether it be for individuals, companies or nations such as the United States.

He said the role of computer networks in our lives is hard to overstate. Jornet brought up the example of what would happen in society should a cyber threat disrupt or shut down the electrical grid.

He said right now, there are 50,000 jobs nationwide that are needed in the cyber security field. However, there is presently a lack of qualified applicants.

“Cyber security is the largest growing field in the nation today,” he said. “We as a nation are more and more reliant on digital and cyber. We need those people and we have to protect our infrastructure.”

Whether the Boys & Girls Club children become inspired to begin a career in the cyber security field remains to be seen, but the main point of the workshop was to increase their awareness on an important issue as they likely already do, or most certainly will, use devices connected to the internet.

Isaiah Jasmin served as the team leader for the staff that ran the seven-week program, which ended on Friday, Aug. 17. He said the club was “really grateful” for its partnership with the city.

The Boys & Girls Club after-school program will resume Sept. 4, the first day of school. It is held at Gardner High School for grades five through eight.

Interested parents can sign their children up at www.bgcflg.org.