SynED’s series highlighting cyber heroes who quietly go above and beyond in helping to secure our nation and communities
EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio — Shanti’ Coaston was just hitting her stride as a cybersecurity teacher when COVID-19 upended everything. Her students at Shaw High School in East Cleveland no longer had access to the school’s computer lab, and some were only able to access school assignments on their phones. Thus, begins another story in SynED’s series highlighting heroes who quietly go above and beyond to strengthen and build their communities and our nation.
Rather than let that stop her, Coaston pivoted and reworked her lesson plans and converted assignments like a capture the flag challenge to Google Forms that students could complete from their phones.
“When the students told me, they couldn’t see it in Google Classroom, I told them I would figure out something else,” Coaston said. “I took every activity and broke each section down onto a Google Form. Once I did that, the work completion increased because they could do it on their phones.”
With a lot of uncertainty around the next school year, Coaston is already thinking about how she can use techniques like this to keep her students engaged with cybersecurity education no matter what form learning might take.
This model of inclusion underlies Coaston’s entire approach to cybersecurity education. She firmly believes that every student should have the opportunity to try cyber classes or activities regardless of what the outcome might be.
“It’s important to recruit students no matter what their abilities are,” Coaston said. “Kids pull themselves out because they think they’re not smart enough and teachers are the first line of defense against that.”
Coaston began teaching computer science three years ago and cybersecurity last year. She’s been able to do a lot for her students in a short amount of time, thanks to her own tireless work ethic and support from the East Cleveland School District’s administration.
She was named the 2018-19 Shaw High School and East Cleveland City Schools Teacher of the Year and selected to join the Computer Science Teachers Association’s inaugural cohort of Equity Fellows. She’s also a Girls Who Code facilitator and was part of the team who wrote Ohio’s computer science curriculum standards in 2017.
Coaston focuses on helping her students pass the AP Computer Science Principles exam and obtain industry certifications that can be valuable on pathways to college or directly into the workforce.
The idea of equity comes into play here, too, she says.
“It’s OK if they don’t pass the certification exam. You gave them the opportunity and that’s what matters,” Coaston said. “They can take another exam to give them basic skills. We need to accept all kids and accept the challenge because otherwise, these structural barriers will never change.”
Coaston also tries to connect her students with the professional word as much as possible. Before COVID-19, she organized job site visits that helped her students see the connections between industries that they might not have seen otherwise — particularly for students who are not college-bound.
She recalls one student who wanted to pursue a CDL realizing that technology plays a significant role in trucking and that he could benefit from taking Coaston’s classes.
“For some students, a job site tour is just as effective as a college tour,” she said.
Moving forward, Coaston plans to continue expanding the cyber education offerings available to her students and expanding the pathways to include middle and elementary school — hopefully soon with the help of a newly-hired second teacher.
“I’m blessed to have kids that want to go into computer science and the students are really pushing for some of these things and an administration that supports them,” Coaston said.
About Shaw High School
Home to the Cardinals in East Cleveland City Schools. The stated mission of Shaw High School is to “provide the children of East Cleveland with the academic and social-emotional preparation to succeed in the college and/or career pathway of their choice.” Shanti Coalson’s dedication, along with her students exemplifies their mission and vision. Shaw is represented with notable alumni in the NFL and MLB, notable singer-songwriters, composers, actors, news anchors, and a former head of the Harvard Law School.
SynED is a non-profit organization that acts as a catalyst to help colleges and other higher education partners equip students with the skills they need to enrich their lives through education, knowledge and skill acquisition, giving them rich career opportunities.