When you think cyber security, you aren’t necessarily thinking about kids as young as grade school.

A program Vail Unified School District offers is working to change that with a group called Cyber Patriots.

Students from the Old Vail Middle, Andrada High and Micha Mountain High schools participated in the cyber security competition. This competition was held at Pima Community College’s east campus, where students face off with students across the nation.

“I remember I got into computers, like when I was like six,” Mason Mendoza said.

Mendoza, at just 11-years-old, and his team are learning the importance of how to protect information online.

“So, this competition is about finding errors in the computer and to locate those errors and basically fix them, so the computer can be running properly,” Nala Baker, a high school junior said.

Cyber Security Instructor Melissa Matias says a lot of her students already know about hacking and coding and how to use a computer.

“I just took it upon myself to make sure to try and teach it to them,” Matias explained. “So, they learn how to do it ethically, versus not that they’re doing anything wrong, but just to make sure that they’re doing it in a safe environment.”

The competition is giving students a real hands-on approach to securing computer networks. It’s an important skill many companies pay big bucks to do.

“You’re job is to protect your home,” Matias said. “And those Chromebooks that you use everyday, that is your home.”

The team that wins the semi finals will get an all-expense-paid trip to Washington D.C. and participate in the finals.