Students at Notre Dame Preparatory school in Baltimore have honed their cyber-safety skills, earning them an award from the FBI this week.
Seventh- and eighth-grade students in Technology and Global Citizenship classes at Notre Dame Preparatory won the January 2021 Safe Online Surfing (SOS) award after receiving high scores on tests that measure their online safety awareness, which was presented by FBI agents in person.
The FBI SOS program is a free educational initiative that covers topics such as cyberbullying, malware, and social media – vital at a time when more learning and other activities are taking place online than ever before.
Students were visited this week by Special Agent in Charge Jennifer C. Boone and Lead Computer Scientist Susi Hajeski, both members of the FBI Baltimore Field Office.
“When we heard that it was a woman that was the head of it, we were all really excited about that,” said Olivia Eikenberg, an eighth-grader. “It was really cool to see what you can reach for, especially here at an all-girls school.”
“It was super inspiring and a good opportunity because we got to meet her, and there were other people there who gave their insight into what they do,” said fellow eighth grader Elisabeth Stout.
In recent years, the FBI, historically a male-dominated agency, has made an effort to prioritize diversity and recruit women and minorities. At present, the agency remains majority male and white. According to the FBI Jobs website, 67.2 percent of Special Agents are white males. The total FBI workforce is 45.7 percent white male and 29.4 percent white female. Black women make up 7.7 percent of the FBI workforce, while Black men comprise only 4.3 percent.
“The FBI agent was a woman, which was really cool to see, and the words she said were really inspirational because even if there’s not someone who is paving the way for you, you can just pave the way for yourself,” said Olivia.
The FBI’s SOS program is growing in popularity. In the 2019-2020 school year, more than 1.3 million students took the SOS test.
A recent report by the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center and the K-12 Security Information Exchange cataloged 408 publicly-disclosed cyber incidents in K-12 institutions, marking an 18 percent increase from 2019. The incidents included ransomware attacks, data breaches of student and staff personal data, and a variety of other cyber attacks.
In November, a ransomware attack hit the Baltimore County Public School system, forcing the district to cancel online classes for its 115,000 students for two days. Last month, Baltimore County’s Board of Education approved more than $1.7 million in contracts for services required following the ransomware attacks.
At Notre Dame Preparatory school, cybersecurity is part of the middle school curriculum. The curriculum includes a program called Innovate Design Time, which includes quarterly ungraded classes focused on digital citizenship.