Homeland security enters the classroom

Pioneering program starts next year at Harford high school

July 07, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

An article Friday regarding plans by Harford County to open a magnet high school for homeland security, which county officials believe will be the first of its type in the nation, should have mentioned Baltimore's Homeland Security Academy at the Walbrook high school campus. The academy opened last year and it is accredited by the state to teach law enforcement and emergency response, including computer science and information infrastructure security.

The Sun regrets the errors.

The Harford County school system plans to open what will apparently be the nation's first magnet program focused on homeland security, preparing high school students for careers in disaster response, high-level computer science and law enforcement.

Students in the program, scheduled to open in the fall of 2007 at Joppatowne High School, will be given limited security clearances to enable them to perform internships at nearby Aberdeen Proving Ground, where the military develops and tests conventional and biological weapons.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions incorrectly characterized the mission of the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground as it relates to chemical and biological warfare. The center develops and tests countermeasures to such threats.
The Sun regrets the errors.

The curriculum, which is being developed, is expected to include public safety, border control, religious ideology, geospatial technology, cybersecurity, and threat identification.

A cross-section of county teachers with military or emergency-response backgrounds, including a former Navy liaison to APG who teaches science, will create the program.

State education officials see an opportunity to prepare students for the thousands of jobs focused on national security and weapons research that are expected to come to Maryland in a nationwide consolidation of military bases. They are closely watching the program and hope to expand it to other jurisdictions.

"Our interest is based on labor market demand and research that shows the need for careers in this field," said Jeanne-Marie Holly, a program manager for the state's Office of Career and Technology Education Systems.

The new program also aims to feed students into area universities, which have been rapidly developing similar programs in advanced security since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Hundreds of universities nationwide offer certificates or degrees, but Harford's immersion at the high school level is being promoted as a first.

"As we look out to the next generation and the roles they're going to play in protecting the homeland on national security issues, it is significant to get some of the best and brightest engaged in these issues," said Frank J. Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University. "I think it's quite entrepreneurial for a high school to move out in front."

The Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness program was approved last fall by the county school board and is expected to begin enrolling 10th graders from Joppatowne High next year. It would later expand to students countywide and enroll up to 200 students, said Frank Mezzanotte, who oversees the county's magnet programs.

Mezzanotte said the experts he has consulted to develop the county's program say they know of no such program elsewhere.

Social studies and biology teachers toured chemical and biological laboratories at APG yesterday and viewed large fermentors, centrifuges and sludge tanks used to test antibodies and enzymes.

"This is exciting," said Christine Zatalava, a biology teacher at Aberdeen High School. "I am psyched."

A morning slide show presentation gave them a crash course in terrorists and the way they operate. Among the topics were availability of biological weapons and the motivation of terrorists.

"Why would a terrorist use these weapons?" asked Gary Eifried, chief technical officer at EAI Corp., a defense contractor. "Guns and bombs and bullets have worked so far, so why move on to this new kind of terrorism?"

A small group of teachers, many relatively young, will try to answer those questions as they craft the curriculum for a foundation class that all students will take.

Among the teachers involved is retired Cmdr. John G. Wallace Jr., a 57-year-old science teacher at Edgewood High School who spent more than a decade with the Navy as a liaison to APG.

Those teaching the courses will be from within the school system and have no formal training in teaching homeland security specifically, said Eric Cromwell, Harford's coordinator of accelerated learning programs.

"We realize there's a steep curve, but homeland security has only really been around as a concept for five years," Cromwell said. "We're going to use people within the school system and bring in guest lecturers."

A 1989 state commission on vocational and technology education recommended that Maryland schools prepare students for employment and post-secondary education - not one or the other, as prescribed in the old model.

Traditional courses such as shop, auto mechanics and cooking have been replaced by more high-tech subjects.

Anne Arundel County recently approved a math and science magnet at Meade High School, which has been supported by defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp.

In Harford, the homeland security magnet, funded by a $200,000 state grant, will become one of several similar programs available to Harford students, joining a math and sciences academy based at Aberdeen High School and planned agriculture and medical sciences magnets.

Officials envision many possibilities for the new program. Students enrolled in the county's English as a Second Language Center at Harford Technical High School could fill the need for translators, and others could become certified incident response commanders.

"The bottom line is, if you can make learning relevant, kids are going to enjoy being in school," said Mezzanotte, the magnet coordinator. "We're giving them exit points to a career."

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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