Lakota graduating senior among pioneers for district’s first cyber academy

Lakota East High School graduating senior Zoey Chappell not only excelled in learning cyber security skills from the district's innovative Cyber Academy but also served as an ambassador for the program, say Lakota officials. Chappell, right, recently represented the academy as school superintendents from around the nation toward Lakota's many cutting-edge programs. (Contributed Photo\Journal-News)

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Lakota East High School graduating senior Zoey Chappell not only excelled in learning cyber security skills from the district's innovative Cyber Academy but also served as an ambassador for the program, say Lakota officials. Chappell, right, recently represented the academy as school superintendents from around the nation toward Lakota's many cutting-edge programs. (Contributed Photo\Journal-News)

As members of the first class of Lakota’s historic Cyber Academy walk on stage soon to receive their high school diplomas they will also be taking their latest step toward employment in one of America’s fastest growing industries – cyber security.

Among them will be Lakota East High School student Zoey Chappell, who was a recently featured speaker at Lakota’s school board meeting and an “academic star” within the innovative academy that is one of only two of its kind among southwest Ohio schools.

Chappell was one of the first to apply for the program three years with some hesitancy because it was a new experiment for the 17,000-student Lakota Schools.

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But her concerns were soon replaced by a still-growing passion for studying and working in cyber security.

“I’m just really grateful to have discovered what cyber (security) is and to get the abilities to make myself hirable and to make myself useful as a high schooler. I don’t think a lot of high school programs can do that,” said Chappell.

Her work at the Cyber Academy, which is located at Lakota East but also enrolls students from Lakota West High School, was recently lauded by school officials who described her as an “ambassador” for the program through her volunteer work with informational presentations to junior high students considering enrolling in the program.

“We are so proud of all that Zoey has accomplished,” said Keith Koehne, Lakota’s executive director of curriculum and instruction.

“She entered the Cyber Academy without a lot of IT experience and has made so much of the experience. She has earned industry certifications, internships and real job offers due to all of her hard work.,” said Koehne.

“She has done well individually, but what is even more impressive is how she has taken on a leadership role and become a true ambassador for the program as a whole and for young women in IT specifically. Watching her speak to junior school students is inspiring.”

The realities of the cyber security industry — and its willingness to pay top dollar for trained cyber experts — has inspired more teens to in Lakota and across the nation to explore similar programs where available.

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.

Chappell will spend her summer working for Fifth Third Bank’s cyber threat interdiction department before starting her freshman year at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

None of that, she said, would be possible without the Cyber Academy.

“I don’t think many high schools can prepare a student like that,” she said.

The academy opened in 2019 with 150 students. This school year enrollment was 165 students and next year’s class will number 200 students.

More information on the academy is available on its Lakota district web page.

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