FREDERICKSBURG FREE LANCE-STAR, ADELE UPHAUS
Spotsylvania High School teacher Kristi Rice received the 2021 Presidential Cybersecurity Education Award for her work in building the county school division’s cybersecurity program and increasing access to cybersecurity education locally, statewide and nationally.
Rice is one of two teachers in the U.S. to receive the honor, which is in its second year and is given annually by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Security Agency to one elementary and one secondary educator.
Sergio de Alba, of Miano Elementary School in Los Banos, Calif., is the other recipient of this year’s award.
“Virginia’s educators are tirelessly committed to making sure our students are ready for the future—and Ms. Rice embodies this fervent dedication,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger in a press release. “Her efforts at Spotsylvania High School not only help Virginia students prepare for exciting careers, but they help strengthen our national security and our readiness for the next wave of cyber threats.”
Rice, who is in her sixth year as an educator and her fourth teaching cybersecurity, said she is “still processing” news about the honor.
“The U.S. Department of Education called me here at school to tell me about it,” Rice said. “So yeah, it’s pretty exciting.”
In addition to teaching cybersecurity courses at Spotsylvania High School—where enrollment in the program has tripled in the past four years—Rice leads the all-girls Cyber Knights team, which placed second at the Girls Go Cyberstart National Competition in 2019 and 2020.
She also helps other teachers develop cybersecurity programs and sits on the K–12 advisory board of Virginia Cyber Range, an organization that provides virtual environments to public schools for use in cybersecurity labs and exercises.
“I’m very passionate about not only getting cybersecurity education to my students but also for teachers to start teaching cybersecurity and have the resources they need available,” Rice said.
According to a press release issued by the Department of Education, 100 percent of Rice’s students graduate and 100 percent go on to college, enter the military or go straight into the workforce.
Rice’s leadership has increased the number of girls in Spotsylvania High School’s cybersecurity program and she was invited to give a presentation on the topic at a conference sponsored by the National Security Agency this fall.
“I was asked to speak about Spotsy’s success because we’re a rural school and we also have a high female representation,” Rice said. “I was extremely honored to present and speak about all that.”
Rice is advising two of her female students who are working on independent study projects related to cybersecurity. One is developing a cyber program for intellectually disabled students and another is creating an after-school cybersecurity camp for county middle schools.
“It’s her way of leaving a legacy here in the county,” Rice said. “She’s going to present the program to all the middle schools after winter break.”
Rice said 2021 has been a “different” year, but that she tries hard to focus on the needs of her students and not be distracted by anything else.
“I just keep focusing on my students and stuff—I don’t let in anything from the outside that’s going to affect my classroom,” she said. “I just try to do whatever is possible to make sure I am providing the best cybersecurity education for my students.”