By Mimi Hall

Lexis Nexis logoUSA TODAY
December 11, 2007

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 Route 40 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 in October 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 or for college,” Wise says.

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By Mimi Hall USA TODAY December 11, 2007 JOPPA, Md. -- Call it vocational…