Students greet guests with a round of applause as they head inside for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. (Courtesy of Moreno Valley School District).

Prince James Story |

Greeted by a group of students, cheerleaders, and the band, you may have thought Canyon Springs High School was preparing for a football game, not a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The purpose of the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday was to display the new Moreno Valley United Schools District’s (MVUSD) Cyber Innovation Center. 

Amiyah Breeding speaking about her journey from Canyon Springs High School to the Airforce Academy. (Courtesy of Moreno Valley School District).

It was an event filled with joy, pride, and relief that the hard work of the students, parents, teachers and board members had paid off. 

The new Cyber Security and Esports Lab cost $3.5 million to build, is 7,687 square feet in size, and consists of three classrooms.  

Friday’s event kicked off with Canyon Springs principal Sean Roberson, as the first speaker.  

Roberson said, “The Lab classrooms represent Moreno Valley Unified School District’s vision to empower students to become future ready and positively impact the world.” 

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond running through the tunnel towards the new Cyber Security and Esports lab. (Courtesy of Moreno Valley School District).

During the ceremony, there were multiple speakers, including State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, Canyon Springs High School Alumna Amiyah Breeding, and cyber academic pathway instructor Donna Woods.

Breeding was a star basketball player for Canyon Springs, and her original plan after high school was to play basketball overseas. 

Her older brother was in the Air Force, and it motivated her to want to be a part of something bigger than herself. 

In her senior year in high school, Breeding took Ms.Woods’s cyber class, which ignited her interest in cyber security. 

All Smiles during the Ribbon cutting ceremony in front of the new Cyber Security and Esports Lab. (Courtesy of Moreno Valley School District).

After graduating in 2018, Breeding attended a preparatory school for one year, then enrolled in the Airforce Academy.

At the Academy, Breeding played on the basketball team her first year. After that season, she decided to stop playing basketball and focus primarily on her studies. 

Breeding is a systems engineer major and is currently working on a project involving machine intelligence. 

In two weeks, she will receive her first job assignment. She is hoping to get one of the pilot slots. 

Dreams of access to  education and a better life

Donna Woods(center) praises the hard work of the teachers and support staff involved in the Cyber academy pathway. (Courtesy of Moreno Valley School District).

During his speech, State Superintendent Tony Thurmond praised the teachers, parents, and students’ commitment and their hard work over the years. 

He said a program like this is the type of opportunity his immigrant grandparents hoped to provide for him. 

“My grandparents had a dream that their children and their grandchildren would live to avail themselves to an education that will give them a better life. And as I’ve listened to your remarks, Amiyah and Audrey, the great work that you’ve done in this district, it actually brings a tear to my eye because it is the manifestation of what I believe my grandparents wanted. And what all grandparents would want and all parents want for our young folks,” said Thurmond. 

One person who received a lot of recognition during the ceremony was teacher Donna Woods. 

Woods has been a part of the Moreno Valley Unified School District for over 30 years. Woods started as a basketball coach and transitioned to assistant secretary while finishing up her teaching certification and had been teaching for 23 years. 

Woods currently serves as the lead instructor for the cyber academic pathway. 

The late Aaron Barnett, who served as the IT director of the Moreno Valley Unified School District and Woods, created this cyber program seven years ago. 

Seventh grader Jasmine Dillard practicing her coding and creating a website. (Prince James Story, Black Voice News).

It started as an after-school program with only 20  students, and by the first competition, they had 36 students signed up to participate. 

“It started just as a club. Then we started writing the curriculum for the classes. Then that curriculum was state-approved,” Woods said. Since then, they have won four grants worth $7 million, and that’s what funded the new center. 

“We don’t want to ever take this for granted. We were in a very small, 600-square-foot classroom,” Woods said. “We still did great things, and we won three state titles, and we expanded to other schools, but that’s because of the student’s passion and their parents and their dedication.”

Now students on the cyber career pathway can get college articulated credits, and in dual enrollment, they get six college units and two industry certifications. 

“We now do our introductory courses at our middle schools. We’re at five middle schools here  in Moreno Valley Unified School District. And then when they come to high school, they can finish the pathway in two years. Once they finish the cyber one, cyber two, basically intermediate and advanced [classes], they get to come to the dual enrollment [program].”

Audrey Thomas was another success story featured at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.  

Thomas is a senior at Valley View High School, and she completed the pathway program her junior year.

Thomas is the National Ambassador for Girl Scouts of America and has traveled around the globe for workshops.  She is also a part of GenCyber, a program that provides cybersecurity experiences for students and teachers at the secondary level.

Sophomore Miles Haskins and Esports team captain playing SmashBros in the new Esports Lab. ( Prince James Story, Black Voice News).

She credits girl scouts for exposing her to STEM in middle school and helping her find her passion for STEM early. 

The power of servant leadership

Woods talked about incorporating that servant leadership into her students and teaching them to look to pass on what they learn to others. 

Thomas is a walking embodiment of that lifestyle. Thomas said she is trying to start a United Black Scholars Program on her campus at Valley View, which she describes as a more accessible national honors society for Black students.  

“I want to make it where you can feel seen and heard without the extra fees. Just bring your mind and your knowledge.” 

Thomas talked about the idea of attending a Historical Black College after she graduates, North Carolina A&T, Howard University, and FAMU are a couple of universities she is considering. 

“I think the most important thing is to see people that look like you in the field because it’s mainly white-dominated and male-dominated … At HBCU’s you are going to be around people who look like you. And, you can have a good experience and learn in a fun and healthy environment.” 

North Carolina A&T will collaborate with IBM to create a virtual Cyber Security Leadership Center on its campus. A&T was one of six Historically Black Universities that will be a part of this collaboration. 

Students working in the new cyber security classroom. (Courtesy of Anahi Velasco).

Thomas also said she was excited about the new Harold L. Martin, Sr. Engineering Research and Innovation Complex on the A&T campus, which opened in February. 

Moreno Valley Unified School District achievements

In 2018, the MVUSD received three Riverside County Office of Education Models of Academic Excellence Awards–the most a school district could receive in a year. 

In 2020, Ms.Woods was one of two national inaugural Presidential Cybersecurity Education Award recipients. 

This year, Moreno Valley School District and 17 of the district’s schools were awarded the 2022 California Pivotal Practice (CAPP) Award for innovative programs put in place during the 2020-2021 school year. 

“Why not the Inland Empire?” Woods said some people doubted a program like this could succeed in the Inland Empire. “This is the Silicon Valley of the South [California]. Why not our kids? Look at the diversity on our campus. You see every culture and multiple languages, that’s what’s valuable. We need males and females. We need diversity.”  

Well, not only is this program thriving, but Woods said this is the first cyber innovation center on a high school campus in the nation. The program continues to grow, with 683 students enrolled on the cyber pathway this year. 

“Our students are sometimes the first in their families to go to college,” Woods said.

Last year’s  senior class received $83 million in scholarships across the district,” according to Woods. “Many of our students, after they have finished college or get into their great career in cybersecurity, buy their family their very first home.”

This program was built with hard work, love, and commitment from the teachers, students, and parents. The student’s success is proof of what happens when you invest in children’s education, no matter race, ethnicity, or economic status.  

“You show that you care. And you not only love them, but you love their families too,” Woods said.  “We’re going to show them a way out, a way up, not a handout, but opportunities, and they grab hold of it. And we have to do that. Or we’re missing the bigger picture. It’s our calling. It’s our mission.”

Prince James Story

Report for America Corps member and Black Voice News Climate and Environmental Justice reporter, Prince James Story was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He is an intersectional journalist with experience covering news and sports across numerous mediums. Story aims to inform the public of social inequities and discriminatory practices while amplifying the voices of those in the communities harmed. Story earned his master’s degree in Sports Journalism from Arizona State University-Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He earned a B.A. in Mass Communication and a B.A. in African American studies from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Contact Prince James with tips, comments, or concerns at Princejames@blackvoicenews.com or via Twitter @PrinceJStory.