The Sovietization of American Schools

School’s homeland security studies get noticed

JOPPA, Md. — Call it vocational education for the 9/11 generation.

The nation’s first comprehensive high school homeland security program, a three-year course to help kids land jobs in the growing anti-terrorism industry, is in its infancy in Maryland. But it’s recently been attracting the attention of educators and school districts from as far away as California and Florida.

The program, started at Maryland’s Joppatowne High School with 61 sophomores, provides "an opportunity for kids to see relevance to being in school," says Frank Mezzanotte of the Harford (Md.) County Public Schools. "It gives kids additional options."

Students have toured a Coast Guard command center, visited a county detection center, practiced emergency response in a fictional town called "Joppaville" and heard an Iraqi-born speaker explain cultural differences between Americans and Middle Easterners.

"We’re trying to set high expectations," says student Megan Bell, 15. "We don’t want to be known as just the school with the good football team. Now we have homeland security."

Other school districts are taking notice. Mezzanotte says he’s been contacted by individual schools and education departments in more than a half-dozen states.

"Joppatowne broke the ground for all of us," says Lise Foran of Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland. Next fall, Meade High School will begin a Homeland Security program. "We’re following in Joppatowne’s footsteps."

And on Wednesday, Mezzanotte will be in Las Vegas, where he has been asked to give a presentation on the program to the Association for Career and Technical Education annual conference.

Some question whether the program will teach students to be open-minded about the government’s national security policies, given its goal of getting kids jobs with defense and homeland security contractors and the military. The liberal magazine Mother Jones dubbed Joppatowne "the academy of military-industrial-complex studies."

Jonathan Zimmerman, a New York University history of education professor, says "the devil lies in whether this is going to be a school for education or indoctrination."

Other educators applaud the school for taking steps to prepare kids for one of the nation’s expanding job markets and for connecting what they learn in school to what’s happening in the real world.

"This sounds to me like it has all the earmarks of what keeps young people in school," says former West Virginia governor Bob Wise, now head of the Alliance for Excellent Education. "It gives them the skills necessary for the modern workplace."

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High school course aims for better citizens

By Mimi Hall, USA Today


JOPPA, Md. — Caitlin Gomez is thinking about a career in the Coast Guard. A.J. Massey is interested in science that helps prevent biological warfare. And Megan Bell is fascinated by geospatial technology.

The three 15-year-olds are students in a new three-year high school homeland security program designed to keep kids in school and teach them the kinds of skills that will get them into college or get them good jobs after graduation.

Developed in response to the working-class area’s expanding job market, the Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Program at Joppatowne High School is becoming a model for the nation.

"We want the kids to come out with two major things: To come out as better citizens and to have the skills to be successful," says program coordinator Leah Beaulieu.

The program gives students an overview during year one and then requires them to complete coursework in one of three areas during their junior and senior years: Homeland Security sciences, including chemical and biological threat identification; law enforcement and criminal justice, including evidence collection and enforcement; and information and communications technology, including Geographic Information Systems.

Some other high schools offer homeland security classes, but Joppatowne is the first to offer a full-scale program that’s directly tied to area businesses. It’s also a statement on the times: in a post-9/11 world, the future job market is going to be filled with prospective candidates for homeland security jobs, so why not be prepared.

Already this year, the 38 boys and 23 girls in the program have taken fields trips to a police detection center, a Coast Guard command center and a company that works on biological and chemical security.

To the man who created the program, Frank Mezzanotte of Harford County Public Schools, the trips are "an opportunity for kids to see the relevance to being in school."

They’re also a link to big business. Big government contractors such as Battelle and SAIC are working with the program, offering internships and the use of equipment and staff.

To the students, the trips and the classes they take are just plain cool.

"I look forward to homeland security" classes, Bell says. "It’s good to learn something new and be able to connect it to something else."

An 80-minute class last week featured Iraqi-born Haider Abbud, a former NATO adviser in Iraq, describing the cultural and religious differences between Middle Easterners and Americans. After class, Bell’s friend Gomez said the only problem with the program is that "it kind of makes all our other subjects feel useless."

That’s certainly not the goal. Students are required to complete their other coursework as well to graduate. But educators say Gomez’s enthusiasm for the new courses she’s taking shows the new program is already a success.

"In this country we have a 30% dropout rate, and another 30% finish high school but without the skills necessary to succeed in college or the workplace," says Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. In the Joppatowne program, "they see relevance to the world they’re going to live in. They’re not in English class reciting a poem. They’re not reading about Iraq, they’re talking to somebody from Iraq. They’re not reading about search and rescue, they’re visiting the Coast Guard. It’s engaging them."

Gerald Tirozzi, director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, says he applauds Joppatowne for setting up a program designed to feed the "growth industry" supporting national security. "There are some wonderful vocational education programs out there," he says. But there also are many that are "dealing with outdated vocations. This is new and innovative."

It’s also preparing for jobs, he says, that will "exist in vast quantities" for years to come.

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