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The Falls Church News-Press has partnered with George Mason High School’s award-winning newspaper, The Lasso, to bring its readers some of the top articles appearing in the student-run digital paper. This regular feature will appear monthly in the News-Press during the school year. The Lasso can be found online at www.gmhslasso.org.

School Macbooks Further Padlocked

By Jack West

At the start of the 2015-2016 FCCPS school year, Instructional Technology Coordinator, Mr. Steven Knight and the IT Department introduced many new and improved security features, such as Barracuda Web Filter, McAfee, and Kasparnet. These features have been introduced to ensure that student Macbooks remain virus free and that student information is protected.

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Barracuda Web Filter blocks a hazardous site at on a student Macbook at George Mason. Students have found themselves being hindered by the web filters, who are supposed to protect students, but is instead blocking students from accessing important sites. (Photo: Jack West)

The most infamous of these security softwares is Barracuda Web Filter. According to Knight and the IT Department, Barracuda Web Filter is in place not to restrict the students from distracting sites but more so to protect student computers and information from harmful viruses.

“It doesn’t just filter the internet, it prevents the faculty from getting spammed… Barracuda helps the teachers get less junk mail, which helps us get less viruses on our PCs and Macs,” said Knight.

A large number of students have had their computers reimaged last year and this year due to these viruses.

According to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), all schools that receive discounts on Internet access must provide web filters to protect students from viewing harmful material. Most schools following these guidelines block almost every non educational website (Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, etc.). In FCCPS, however, the regulations placed on computers are not as strict, given how administrators realize that much students depend on technology throughout the school day.

“We are trying to make sure that if anything happens, we can communicate it with the students… when Barracuda is down it can’t detect what sites are dangerous, so it detects everything as dangerous,” said Knight on the recent spontaneous shutdowns occurring within the Macbooks.

The Schoology app on student mobile devices gives students the ability to see any posts that Knight has on Schoology, even when a shutdown occurs.
McAfee and Kasparnet are two other new security softwares used on all Mason Macbooks this year. McAfee protects the Macbooks from spyware and viruses. Most of the viruses that infected student computers last year were caused by clicking on false advertisements, unlike the common misperception of pirating movies and television shows.

Kasparnet is Mason’s mobile management device, allowing the school computers to communicate when on the school’s wifi network. It serves as a link between the computers and the school servers. If computers begin to exhibit abnormal behaviors, then Knight and the IT department can investigate whether there is an actual malware threat to a student’s computer.

Students who dislike the security systems on their Macbooks attempt to overcome these cyber fences in order to access blocked sites. One of the most popular ways to avoid the cyber fences is a Chrome Extension called Browsec. Browsec aids students in evading Barracuda by putting the student on a server in a different country where the cyber security rules are less strict, such as the Netherlands and Germany.

If Browsec connects a student to one of these proxy servers, the student will be able to surf the web on blocked sites. However, there is a risk of having personal information like credit card numbers stolen as the cyber security rules differ in other countries. Only recently has the school eradicated Browsec from the school Macbooks. It is now impossible to download and use Browsec on school computers.

Knight and the IT department are extremely willing to work with students on which sites are blocked and which sites aren’t.

“I do that all day long, if it’s anything that I think is suspect, like a game engine, I’ll tell the student that they need permission from their family. For the most part I know the programs that you need to have… if it’s something for class then we should be putting it on self service,” said Knight.
The ultimate goal in strengthening security measures on the Macbooks is to expand the abilities of Macbooks in aiding student learning, not restrict them.

 


 

New Turf & Track Coming in Spring 2016

By Melissa Johnson

A potential design of the new turf and track. The lines on the turf will be redone and the track will be completely resurfaced and a bright red color. (Photo: Courtesy Tom Horn)
A potential design of the new turf and track. The lines on the turf will be redone and the track will be completely resurfaced and a bright red color. (Photo: Courtesy Tom Horn)

A big change is coming to the GM community: a brand new turf and track.

As fall sports teams come to a close this November, the $518,474 project of the new turf and track will be started by the company Field Turf. A four month open period has been set for Field Turf to complete the installation. However, the installment of the turf and track is relatively quick – three to four weeks for the turf and 10 days for the track. The long time given is to give plenty of wiggle room for any issues that might arise during the installation.

“The process is not a long one, but we have given that long window because of the winter,” said Athletic Director, Tom Horn. “Most of these projects are done in the summer, which is more predictable in weather while the winter is not.”

The weather is important in the installation of specifically the track. The track installation requires the weather to be above 50 degrees fahrenheit in order for the asphalt to dry. In addition, if there is lots of snow that will also delay the installations of the track and field. While the new turf field is guaranteed, the track is not. Unfortunately, Field Turf has already established that the weather thus far has already fallen below the specified level and the plans for installing the track will be pushed into the spring season.

“We have already experienced overnight temperatures that are below the threshold and the company has halted track work for the winter, said Horn. “This means that the track project will still get done but probably not until the spring, at a time when it will have the least impact on our students.”

However, without any snow fall, the turf is still on schedule to be put in before the spring season. The turf will have new blades of grass – resulting in much less black pellets – and more clear lines on the field. The foundation of where the turf is, is strong and can last a lifetime, so all Field Turf is doing is “rolling” out a new turf.

“I am so excited, because the old turf hurts and [the pellets] get everywhere, and while that is normal for most turf fields, Mason’s is like the extreme,” said senior soccer player, Corinne Carson. “Also I found myself tripping on it sometimes.”

The track will be a bright red color, with a new bouncy surface. Similar to the turf, the track is basically getting a renovation. While the original foundation will stay put, the top layer of the track will be taken off, Field Turf will then re-pour a new layer of asphalt and finally add the track surface on top of the new asphalt. The replacement of the track can be easily equated to replacing a carpet in a person’s house.

In addition to the track itself, there will be a brand new “High Jump” area for the track team.

“Definitely the surface effects the team in their running, because a worn [harder] track affects your legs much more and tires them out quickly – so things like shin splints can occur,” said track coach Jennifer Monk. “So if they can resurface it, that will be awesome for runners.”

With the money, time, and place all planned for the new turf and track, students should look out for the brand new turf surface in the spring and the new surfaced track later in the spring season.

 


These articles plus more from The Lasso available at www.gmhslasso.org.

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