From Intro to Computer Science to IT Essentials: How the IT Programs here at OHHS are making it big In Cybersecurity

CyberPatriot is a very big cybersecurity competition. Red Hat Linux is an even bigger Linux operating system company. Just how far and high were the accomplishments of the OHHS IT programs in both of these?

Michelle Alvarado
Cisco Networking Academy Instructor and Industrial Technology Department chair Mark Smith stands for a photo in his classroom.

Here at Oak Hills, there’s a wide variety of classes to choose from. Four of those classes have to do with IT (Industrial Technology) Essentials
and they are taught by Mark Smith, Cisco Academy Instructor/Lead and Industrial Technology Department Chair. The classes are in the international program called Cisco Networking Academy that teaches IT skills to students in more than 180 countries, our students included.

Available for grades 10-12, students learn how to build a computer, the parts of a computer, the different operating systems that make them run, how to fix the operating systems when necessary, how to remove viruses, how to diagnose problems with the hardware and software inside a computer, security, networking, and so much more. For freshmen, there’s Intro to Computer Science before they take the next three years of IT Essentials if they choose to do so.

“IT Essentials is a class to gain the skill to be an IT support specialist,” says Smith.

Aside from the classes, there is also a club called the 3ncrypt3d (encrypted) club whose focus is now on cybersecurity. It is an extension of his classes. They meet every week on Wednesday from 2:30pm – 4:30pm. It’s in this club and on their own time where they really focus on CyberPatriot, one of the cybersecurity competitions they compete in, since they only touch on it in class, but not actually go deep into it.

“The students are learning how to do hacking in order to defend, how to defend operating systems, and basically try to stop all the bad people out there from taking our data and giving us viruses and things like that. Sometimes the students have to learn how to hack in order to defend. That’s a big principle in cybersecurity. In some cybersecurity courses, they’ll actually show you how to pick a lock because once you understand the concept then you also understand ‘Can I make a more secure door?’ If I understand how someone can break in, then I can defend.”

Michelle Alvarado
The CyberPatriot banner in Smith’s room. CyberPatriot is the cybersecurity competition that his students are currently competing in.

Since then, Smith’s students entered the national middle school and high school cybersecurity competition, CyberPatriot. It is a competition created by the Air Force and other big military contractors. The teams are given 6 hours each round to defend virtual machine images and make sure they’re secure. The images are entire operating systems within other operating systems.

“They work on this pure copy that’s running. It’s almost like they’re remote connecting to another computer,” Smith explains the images.

The first part of the round is called the Networking Security Challenge. The teams are given a background on the issues within a certain operating system. The team’s job is to get into the computer and make sure everything is secured and set properly.

“They have to do that for Windows, for Linux in ubuntu, and they have to do it for what’s called Windows Server. So they got 3 major, different operating systems that they have to know well enough about to know how to secure it, to know what to look for.” The students all try to train in specializing in one of these three things but also be able to handle all of them. They want to be able to rotate around and help each other.

The Cisco Networking Challenge follows afterward. This challenge deals with advanced networking.

“Think of Wells Fargo, all their computers hooked together in their network. [It’s] a huge network that they also have to defend and configure,” Smith says about the second part of the round.

In round 1, all of the 4,200 competing teams were placed into the following tiers: Platinum, Gold, and Silver (in order of highest to lowest tier). Platinum tier means you placed in the top 25% in the nation. Gold tier means you placed in the 30% below that, and Silver tier means you placed in the 25% below Gold. Five of those teams came from Oak Hills, with four out of the five scoring in the top 25% and 30% in the nation and being placed in the Platinum and Gold tiers. The remaining team scored in the top 1.8% in the entire nation (ranking #50 out of 4,260 teams). The 5 teams are comprised of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

The teams participated in round 2 last weekend. If they do well enough, they will be on their way to the state level in December. If they make it into Platinum during rounds 1 and 2, they’ll be in the Platinum Division at the state level. This means that they’ll be competing against the top 25% of teams in the entire state of California. They’ll be competing against the best of the best teams. If they make it past state, then they’ll go to the semifinals in January. If they make it past that, they’ll be flown out to Maryland in April for the finals where military contractors and the FBI and CIA show up to offer students internships.

Michelle Alvarado
A banner in Mark Smith’s classroom that shows that we’re a Red Hat Academy school.

Aside from being a Cisco Academy, Oak Hills is also a Red Hat Linux Academy. Red Hat Linux is the biggest Linux (an operating system) company in the world. It helps other companies run Linux and provides support. The operating system is so popular everywhere. Around 85% of all servers are running Linux, although you wouldn’t know it because other operating systems like Android and ChromeOS are built right on top of it. The top 500 richest companies in the world even use Linux.

“Red Hat Linux is literally powering the organization companies around the world.”

Red Hat Linux reached out to Oak at the end of last year, wanting us to be in their Red Hat Ambassador Program.

“[They] would like to have a representative that basically would communicate with Red Hat Linux headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina and represent and learn more about Red Hat,” Smith explains. “So they reached out to us. Twelve schools from across the nation: ten colleges, two high schools, and we’re one of them. So we are literally one of two high schools, and the other one is specifically an IT CTE (career and technical education) based school in Texas and then there’s us.”

The Red Hat Ambassador for Oak is one of Smith’s students named Diego. He recently did a web talk with the other twelve Ambassadors and Red Hat Linux people from North Carolina.

Michelle Alvarado
The screen saver of the computer in the IT Essentials classroom that shows the Cisco Networking Academy logo.

“The opportunities for the students is absolutely amazing. When I tell people when I go out to some of these IT conferences and I say that we’re a high school and we’re doing some of the stuff between cybersecurity and Red Hat Linux training, they’re all shocked. They originally go ‘Well, you’re a college,’ and I say ‘No, it’s high school.’ Even once they get high school out they go ‘Well, it’s like a specific IT high school.’ No, Oak Hills High School.”

Smith feels very proud of his students when he thinks of how far they’ve come along and all of the things they’ve done and earned.

“I think it’s amazing. It really is a testament to the students. They’re doing amazing work, they work hard, there’s an interest. I think that’s really what it’s all about: there’s an interest, and really what I’ve done is bring the curriculum to the students that already want to do the stuff.” Smith also mentions the fact that there’s a huge amount of students that didn’t know computers were their pathway until they took his classes, which feels awesome.

For more information, you can email Mark Smith at [email protected] or talk to him in his room in B-23.



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