Lakota's Cyber Academy training future cyber security warriors

Oct. 15—As America's cyber security industry has expanded, so too has Lakota Schools' experimental academy training high school students for future careers in it.

The Lakota Cyber Academy, which is one of only two high-school programs in Greater Cincinnati, is now being offered at both its original location of Lakota East High School and more recently Lakota West High School.

Demand by student applicants pushed the growth, said Lakota officials, since the Lakota East academy opened with much fanfare in 2019.

Cyber security teacher at both East and West, Ben Dougherty, said the pioneer career program's success is building on itself since 2019.

"Enrollment is up and we are seeing increase interest from the community, parents and students and local business partners. Our mentoring program is up and running so every cyber security three student has a professional, cyber security mentor. Someone who works inside the security industry in the region and ... works with the student," said Dougherty.

"They give them professional guidance and advice and talks to them about what they should be doing to get ready for the next step," he said.

Lakota academy students are also competing in national cyber security contests, often with college students, and score in the top 10 to 20 percent of winners, he said.

"They are out-performing college students."

Professional certifications for various cyber security skills is being "ramped up," he said to further prepare Lakota students for careers, which locally and nationally are showing no end for demand for new workers.

With starting salaries as high as $60,000, those trained and possessing varying levels of professional certification can start their young adult lives with job security and high ceiling for advancement.

Industry experts report there are more than 3 million jobs in cyber security going unfilled.

Lakota East senior Leslie Alonge hopes to help fill that need.

"These classes are really great for getting you ready for a business career. It got me an internship. I'm just 17 but I'm able to learn all these practical skills for the real world and being able to have a job out of high school has been very great for me," Alonge said.

Betsy Fuller, spokeswoman for the 17,200-student Lakota district, said teens enrolled in the academy "are not only learning about cybersecurity, they are participating in real world internships, earning industry credentials and graduating with the tools they need to pursue successful careers."

"We are proud of what our students have achieved in just three short years and look forward to the continued growth of the program," said Fuller.

Photojournalist Nick Graham contributed to this story.