Maryland School Offers Homeland Security Track Joppatowne High School in Maryland has built a curriculum to train students for careers in homeland security. Proponents say the goal is to get the students jobs, but critics fear that the program is telling kids what to think about national security rather than teaching them to protect it.
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Maryland School Offers Homeland Security Track

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Maryland School Offers Homeland Security Track

Maryland School Offers Homeland Security Track

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Homeland Security will be an important aspect of the president's legacy. And at one Maryland school, it's already become part of the curriculum. Students attending Joppatowne High School are learning about careers in protecting the nation's security.

NPR's Allison Keyes observed the program and filed this report.

ALLISON KEYES: This is clearly not your parents' math class.

Unidentified Man #1: We (unintelligible) that from the GPS. There are waypoints for the station.

Unidentified Man #2: What's the flashing ones?

Unidentified Man #1: The flashing one is where you are right now. And we have another radio down here…

KEYES: Instead of sitting in a classroom on this breezy day, kids in Joppatowne High School's Homeland Security program were outside in the sun. The Coast Guard brought a 25-foot response boat right to the school's driveway.

Students clambered aboard and got the VIP tour. Nearly everyone here says they got into this program because it's just cool.

Even 15-year-old Crystal Harmon's(ph) dad think so.

Ms. CRYSTAL HARMON (Student, Joppatowne High School): My dad was like very impressed on that I wanted to get into Homeland Security stuff. He's like, are you serious. Yeah. I thought it was cool.

KEYES: Fifteen-year-old Marian Adabeston(ph) got into the program as a career path.

Ms. MARIAN ADABESTON (Student, Joppatowne High School): They had criminology. They had a little criminal justice thing. And I wanted to be a detective. So I would say, wow, this is really going to be good. This gives me a jumpstart. And then when I get to college, it'll help me a lot more.

KEYES: Marian is exactly the kind of student the Harford County Public School system was hoping for when it started putting its program together. The three-year Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Magnet curriculum includes three career paths.

First, there's science, engineering and technology. Second, there's Homeland Security sciences with health and human services. Third is criminal justice law enforcement. That includes finance, information and communication technology.

Program coordinator Leah Beaulieu says the goal here is to get these students jobs.

Ms. LEAH BEAULIEU (Program Advisor, Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Program): The average student in this school doesn't go to college. And we wanted to show them, hey, there are so many jobs you can get using specific skills and specific higher level thinking applications and analysis right out of high school.

KEYES: There are no high school-level textbooks for this kind of class so instructor Michael Zipay says the committee wrote the curriculum from scratch.

Mr. MICHAEL ZIPAY (Instructor, Member, Curriculum Committee, Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Program): We've been kind of using the Internet and other resources and people. People that's probably are base resources, different organizations and companies.

Unidentified Woman: Feel free to stop and raise your hand or if we don't see you…

KEYES: People from the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Security Agency and companies that sell protective masks and suits have visited the class to offer their expertise.

But skeptics for the Joppatowne program might be telling kids what to think about national security rather than simply teaching them to protect it.

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches education and history at New York University.

Professor JONATHAN ZIMMERMAN (Education and History, New York University): My concern about this school would be that they teach a certain version of it, perhaps, even the White House's version. This is not to say that the White House's version of national security is wrong. It's simply to say that on contentious political issues, public schools should not take a side.

KEYES: Joppatowne High School officials insist they aren't telling students what to think. At a recent workshop about the program for other Maryland districts, instructor Michael Harris explained that the students are learning about leadership, decision-making and the risks that go along with it.

For example, he says, they've discussed issues like Iraq and the government handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Mr. MICHAEL HARRIS (Instructor, Member, Curriculum Committee, Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Program): What we're always trying to do when we're looking at these issues is we're trying to always the get the kids to look at every side of the argument and that sometimes they get frustrated. (unintelligible) and say what is your opinion. It's not our place to give you (unintelligible). It's your job to be informed and to make the best decision possible.

KEYES: Most of the funding for the program comes from Maryland State Emergency Management Agency. Joppatowne High School's Beaulieu says the schools first mission in creating this program was to help its own students. But, she says, it's neat that other school districts think the Homeland Security program template might work for them as well.

Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.

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