Read Like Crazy: Molino Park Premieres Literacy Week Video

January 29, 2015

A couple of days ago, we brought you the story a reading flash mob at Molino Park Elementary School.  Music teacher Katie Powell rewrote the words to the popular song “Call Me Maybe” and created the “Read Like Crazy” video. The final version of the video is now complete, and it’s posted below.

If you don’t see the video above , it’s because your work, school or home firewall is blocking YouTube videos.

Cyberthon Presents Cybersecurity Challenges For High School Students

January 28, 2015

“You got pwnd. We own you.”  For most people working with information technology, seeing this message on a computer screen would cause panic. However, not for Diego Zepeda, he knew just what to do. He knew he needed to immediately access backup information and when that didn’t work, he quickly called on his team for ideas.

“Brandon Thurston came up with the idea that worked and in seconds, we posted a message that our web site would be down for a maintenance period,” said Zepeda. “As soon as that message was up, we were able to access our backup information. From there, we were able to identify the two corrupted folders. We isolated those folders and had everything else back up and running.”

Zepeda explained this phase of Cyberthon 2015, a competition that was locally created to test the internet security skills of two teams of local high school students, as calmly as he might give someone directions to the nearest video game store. Zepeda is a junior at Pine Forest High School and a member of their new Cybersecurity Academy. Thurston is a senior at Pine Forest, also in his first year in the academy.

“Cyber warfare is about a tiny, little attacker trying to take control of the web assets of a monster-sized defender,” explained Doug Underhill, Escambia County Commissioner, District 2, and a key organizer behind the creation of Cyberthon. “The attacker, or hacker, wants to take control and force the larger defender to have to react to his every move. By creating a maintenance window, the defender maintains control and then has time to detect the source of the attack, defend against the attack, and restore their web services to their consumers.”

“By constantly refreshing their team’s webpage and email, Zepeda showed us that he has already figured out the importance of continuous monitoring and found a human solution,” explained Underhill.  “Their quick thinking gave Blue Team 1 their best win of the day.”

The Blue teams’ participants in Cyberthon came from Pine Forest High School, Pace High School, Spanish Fort High School and Catholic High School. The members of the Red Team (aka The Bad Guys) were volunteers from a variety of IT companies and government agencies. Additional volunteers acted as mentors for the members of the Blue Teams. Cyberthon was sponsored by the local chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association. (AFSEA) and it was hosted by the Naval Flight Academy, located aboard NAS Pensacola, giving the competitors a chance to utilized the Flight Academy’s Joint Information Bureaus, rooms filled with state of the art computers, and smart technology.

The Red Team’s role was to launch attacks known to IT security training specialists as MSELs, pronounced “measles”, which are activities on a Master Scenario Event List. MSELs incorporate various METs– Mission Essential Tasks. The first MSEL was a missing folder. The students said that was easy to recover and only took them a few minutes to locate and restore. With each round and each new MSEL, it got harder. Their web sites crashed, but they got them back up. They were also attacked by a DDoS – a Distributed Denial of Service (pronounced dee-doss), which is an effort to overload a site until it crashes.

“We used Splunk, an application that shows everything happening in your network. It let us see the attack source and block it,” Alec Le, a Pine Forest High School, 9th grader, explained casually, like this is something he does every day.

These attacks led up to the event described above when they were “pwnd” (pronounced powned), which meant their site had been taken over.

Both teams figured out how to regain their control, but Team 1’s extra quick thinking impressed the Red Team as well as their instructor, Angela Irby.

“They all did an awesome job this weekend; they have been learning these skills in concept and theory. Cyberthon let them tie it all together like fitting together the pieces of a puzzle. I also think they are having a lot more fun than they imagined,” said Irby. “Another positive aspect of Cyberthon is they are getting to meet people in the industry, both civilian and military, and hear some amazing speakers.”

“Cybercrime is an exponentially growing threat,” FBI Special Agent John Windness, told the students.  He explained the variety of cybercrimes and that it isn’t like what you see in the movies with a guy sitting alone on his computer in a basement somewhere attacking the world’s computers. “Today, hackers are incredibly professionally run organizations.”

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan, a sponsor of the event, also spoke to the students explaining that he was honored to assist in making this event happen. He also made a point of telling the students that the money his office donated to help fund the weekend-long competition came from drug seized money. “Those drug dealers, whose money we are spending here today, are not sitting here today; they are in jail.”

Morgan also pointed out the volunteers in the room, people gathered there to coordinate the competition and mentor the students as they worked through the cyber attacks. “These mentors care enough about all of you to give you their time.”

Underhill told the students, “I joined the Navy in 1991 and I worked in counter-intelligence. But cybersecurity is more exciting for me because it has a real impact on protecting my own family. I can’t imagine a more rewarding career path.”

Zepeda sat with his friends Angelo Mayorga (PFHS, 9th grade) and Alec Le (PFHS, 9th grade) comparing notes on how they handled the various attacks. They all knew that after the“pwnd” event that those two corrupted folders were filled safely away, but still there.

“Tonight I plan to try to find a way to deal with them next time,” said Zapeda.

“I used to think that one person could handle defending a computer system, “ explained Mayorga, “Now I see that it takes a team.”

They also talked about what they are learning and how it is affecting their perspective on how to handle their personal computer equipment. Le said, “I was always careful, but now I will be even more careful.”

“I have never worried about it,” said Mayorga.” “I downloaded lots of stuff.”

“Man, you have got to be more careful,” urged his cybersecurity academy classmates. They should know.

All of the high school students who participated in the 2015 Cyberthon received certificates and many offers from mentors to be there to help later with recommendations for jobs or on college applications. They also received limited edition Cyberthon Challenge coins.

“These coins are a military tradition, given by commanding officers to commemorate an exceptional performance,” Underhill explained to the students. “You have joined a pantheon of exceptional people this weekend. We all expect you to continue to perform at an exceptional level in school, and we challenge you to stay involved in science, technology ,engineering or math (STEM) classes and we hope you will persue a career path in a STEM field.”

The 2015 Cyberthon security warriors stood in front of a room filled with local leaders, business owners, military service people, school district personnel and IT specialists who had served as their mentors and their attackers who all joined together to give the kids a standing ovation.  That was the only time, all weekend, that they looked the least bit frazzled.

by Kim Stefansson for

Photos by Ed Barker, NETC Public Affairs, for, click to enlarge.

Tate High Chaparrals To Present Winter Guard Show Preview Thursday

January 28, 2015

The Tate High School Chaparrals will hold a winter guard friends and family “True Colors” show preview Thursday at 8 p.m. in the school’s new gym. Their winter guard season begins Saturday in Fairhope. Chaparrals members are Katie Dupre, Celina Dyess, Breanna Langley, Megan Leonard, Katy Luebke, Jo Jo O’Steen, Michaela Overbey, Madison Philley, Brenn Repine, Kelsey Strength, Virginia Vaughn and Savannah VonStein.

Pictured: The Tate High School Chaparrals ready for winter guard competition. Photo for, click to enlarge.

Flash Mob: Students Read Like Crazy At Molino Park (With Gallery, Video)

January 27, 2015

It’s Literacy Week at elementary schools across Escambia County, and students at Molino Park Elementary kicked off the week first thing Monday morning with a flash mob. Books in hand, students took part the song “Read Like Crazy” (a parody of the song “Call Me Maybe”). The students worked on the song and choreography for the past couple of weeks.

Photos by Lana Clayton, Kristi Price and others for, click to enlarge.

Scott Visits Pensacola To Push STEM Education Funding In New Budget

January 27, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott visited the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition  in Pensacola Monday to highlight proposed STEM education funding in his 2015-2016 “Keep Florida Working” budget.

Scott has announced $1 million in in proposed funding to partner with high-tech companies in Florida to create a paid summer residency program for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teachers to bring new industry trends in STEM fields back to Florida’s K-12 classrooms. In addition to the summer residency program, Governor Scott’s 2015-2016 “Keep Florida Working” Budget also proposes $30 million for a new workforce training initiative focused on STEM occupations and $5 million to incentivize $10,000 STEM degrees at state colleges.

“We want Florida to be the global leader for jobs, and we must have a skilled workforce to reach that goal. By investing in science, technology, engineering and math education, we are ensuring our students are prepared for the jobs of the 21st century.  Our teachers are essential to preparing our students and helping them realize better educational outcomes, and that is why it is so important that we invest in educating our teachers so they can bring innovative ideas to the classroom.  We know that the workers and leaders of tomorrow are in our classrooms today and we will continue to make important investments to help our students succeed in the classroom and beyond,” Scott said.

There are 16 Florida companies that have already confirmed their participation in the STEM Residency Program, including the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition and Gulf Power Company.

Pictured: Gov. Rick Scott discusses STEM education funding Monday morning at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola. Courtesy photo for, click to enlarge.

Students To Move Into New Ernest Ward Middle School Next Monday (With Photo Gallery)

January 26, 2015

Students are expected to move into the new Ernest Ward Middle School in Walnut Hill one week from today.

Many of the school’s teachers spend a portion of their weekend setting up their new classroom, which contain all new furniture and new technology that includes triple smart boards with “smart pens” that can be used by students from their desks.

All of the items such as computers and furniture, with the exception of library shelving, will be brand new. The school includes new to Ernest Ward technology such as a closed circuit television systems with a complete TV studio, closed circuit video monitoring, electronic security and access controls, and more.

The $20 million facility is not quite complete; there’s still minor work to be done throughout the building, and the school’s agricultural classroom and band room won’t be completed for several more weeks.

If all goes as planned, students will report to their homerooms in the old EWMS building on Monday, February 2. They will escorted grade by grade into the new facility where they will get the grand tour. There will be changes to student drop-off and pick-up areas as well on February 2. Those changes and complete move-in details will be published on

About a week later the move into the new building, demolition on the old Ernest Ward will begin. That demolition and new parking lots are due to be completed by the end of July.

OPEN HOUSE: An open house and tours for the public will be held on Monday, February 16 from noon until 4 p.m., following by a student registration even from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m.

For more photos, click here. photos, click to enlarge


Cruce, Singleton Place In Speaking Events At FFA Districts

January 26, 2015

Two Northview High School students recently placed in  FFA District One competitions. Mitchell Singleton placed second in the district in Prepared Public Speaking, while Tiffani Cruce placed first in the district for Extemporaneous Speaking and will advance to the finals during the State FFA Convention in June.  Photos for, click to enlarge.

Stop Crape Murder: Don’t Cut Back Your Myrtles

January 25, 2015


by the Santa Rosa County Extension Service

Proper pruning is one of the most misunderstood of all gardening practices, yet it is one of the most important procedures in a landscape. A common victim of bad, improper pruning is the crape myrtle. Crape myrtles will occasionally need pruning to obtain the desired landscape effect, but many times these plants are butchered for no good reason.

According to Dan Gill, LSU Ag Center Horticulturist, an unfortunate trend in crape myrtle pruning is to lop off their tops, which results in a tree reduced to large branches ending in stubs. The lush growth that occurs at these cut sites appears vigorous but is actually structurally weak and more susceptible to fungus diseases such as powdery mildew. And when pruning is conducted improperly over several years, unsightly large, swollen knobs form at the point where pruning is done each year.

Flowers are not the only virtue of this tree. Many varieties have beautiful bark and growth habits that can be enjoyed all year if trees are not heavily pruned.

Crape murder

This unsightly, ugly pruning known as crape murder is not recommended. Once it’s done, it ruins the tree’s graceful natural shape for the rest of its life.

Often gardeners think they are supposed to prune their crape myrtles that way, and nothing could be farther from the truth. Many think that crape myrtles need to be cut way back to bloom well. This is not accurate. The flower clusters may be larger on lopped trees, but the added weight on the ends of long branches causes them to bend over awkwardly, especially after it rains. And since the tree is smaller, it actually produces fewer flower clusters.

Many people say they need to cut a crape myrtle back because of its size. If the height of the crape myrtle is not causing a problem with a nearby structure or power lines, there is little reason to reduce the tree’s height. To cut a crape myrtle back for the vague reason of “it just seems too large” ignores the fact that these plants are trees. They are supposed to be large.

To prune a crape myrtle properly, first decide if it needs to be pruned. As with any pruning project, you must have a specific, valid purpose in mind before you begin. In other words, if you can’t come up with a good reason to prune your tree – leave it alone. If you do see something that calls for pruning, study the tree carefully and determine what needs to be pruned to accomplish the specific purpose identified.

There are a few valid reasons for pruning a crape myrtle. One reason is to eliminate crossed and rubbing branches because rubbing branches can lead to open wounds.

Over time, branches that are too low on the trunk will need to be pruned to raise the canopy. We often need to remove weak, thin branches from the inner part of the tree to produce a cleaner-looking tree. Selected branches may need to be pruned back to a side branch or the trunk to create a shapelier tree. Of course, you need to prune to keep suckers removed from the base of the trunk.

Generally, avoid cutting back or shortening branches much larger than your finger, although cutting larger branches back to a side branch or to the trunk when needed is fine.

Visitors to our area often marvel over our crape myrtles. During summer, their colorful flowers, attractive bark and beautiful shape make them among our most valuable landscape plants. Please appreciate this – and stop the unfortunate trend of hacking them back.

Pictured top: Crape myrtle trees do not need pruning  for new growth. Pictured below: These Crape myrtles were ruined with unnecessary topping. Submitted photos for


Weber Performs With All State High School Honors Band

January 25, 2015

David Weber of Northview High School was chosen to be in the All State High School Honors Band.  He recently traveled to Tampa to the Florida Music Educators Association Professional Development Conference and All-State Concerts to perform with 123 other students from across the state. Pictured below: Weber performs with guest conductor Barry L. Houser from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign  Submitted photos for click to enlarge.

Ernest Ward Names January Students Of The Month

January 23, 2015

Ernest Ward Middle School has named January Students of the Month. They are: (L-R) Addison Albritton, seventh grade; Amber Gillman, sixth grade; and Dalton Hamilton, eighth grade. Photo for, click to enlarge.

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