The usual sights in a high school classroom might include desks set up into neat rows and students seated quietly reading, writing, doing math, or listening to a teacher lecturing. But in the new Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) training class being taught at Virgin Valley High School, the standard routine often looks quite a bit different than that.
Students are often up and moving around; practicing. They might be paired up using blood-pressure cuffs and stethoscopes to check each other’s vital signs. They might be practicing the process of ventilating a patient using a medical training manikin. They could be prepping an air tank properly for applying oxygen to a patient. Whatever the task is for the day, it is all very hands-on. And there is always a detailed routine to follow.
“The goal is not just to get it right,” said CSN Instructor Melanie Robison to the class of seniors at VVHS. “Rather the goal is to practice these routines over and over and over again until you can’t get it wrong,”
In an interview with The Progress, Robison explained that the course covers all of the same material as in the full college courses she teaches in Las Vegas, designed to train actual EMTs getting certification. And by next spring, all of the VVHS students enrolled should be ready to take the exam for full certification as an EMT Basic.
The only difference with the VVHS course is that the college material has been adapted and timed to fit the high school setting, and the lifestyles of typical high school seniors.
According to Braiden Green, the CSN Chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Emergency Services, the EMT training is usually taught over a very intensive 16 week period. After all, it is a nine credit college course!
“The students going through this course in town are usually in class for more than 10 hours per week,” Green said. “It is very fast-paced and it goes through a ton of information really quickly. So it takes 100 percent of their focus during that time.”
In putting the VVHS program together, though, the college recognized that a high school setting is quite different than vocational college classes, Green said.
“These kids have a lot of other things going on,” he said. “First of all they have a lot of other classes to keep track of. Plus they have sports or music and other things where they are involved. There are just a lot of different variables in this setting.”
So the decision was made to extend the length of the class, from just one semester, to span an entire school year.
In addition, the college insisted that the course be kept to only a small class size: a maximum of just 10 students. That allowed for the more intensive instruction and more one-to-one attention needed.
“All of that just makes the challenge more do-able for kids at this level,” Green said.
“We feel like it is a good rural opportunity, and it augments career choices for these students,” Green added. “To get an EMT credential while still in high school: that is a big deal. And it really lays a great foundation for them in many different career paths.”
The idea for the local EMT class, taught live during the school day for high school seniors, began with a conversation between Mesquite Fire and Rescue Department Chief Jayson Andrus and VVHS Administrator Steven Waite.
In a recent interview, Waite said that the two men had been talking about ways to open a recruiting pipeline from the high school directly into the local fire department.
“We felt like there had to be a way to keep our kids in the valley and to provide solid career opportunities for them to stay here and raise a family,” Waite said. “This would also potentially fill a recruiting need in the fire department. So we tried to look at ways of bringing this kind of training onto our campus.”
From that discussion, strategies began to form. But it took a lot of relationship building, and several elements falling into place at once to finally bring the idea to fruition, Waite said.
Waite listed a number of these elements including an open and willing VVHS principal in Riley Frei; a good partnership with Green and his department at CSN; an excellent and available instructor in Melanie Robison, who lives in nearby Logandale; a supportive fire department; advocacy from the City and other workforce development entities in the community; and supportive parents and students.
“All of these things finally came together all at once and here we are,” Waite said. “This whole thing has been as much a group, teamwork effort as I have ever been a part of. It couldn’t have happened without any of these various people and organizations being willing to think outside the box and overcome obstacles.”
In an interview with Jayson Andrus, the Chief agreed that the program started out trying to address a staffing problem that is being seen statewide. He hoped that it would eventually provide some new recruits to his department. But Andrus also admitted that the possibilities for the kids in this class are much broader than that.
“Yes we are interested in seeing this program be a way for us to grow our own and have local recruiting,” Andrus said. “But from the kids’ standpoint, it is a gateway into any number of different careers.”
Andrus ticked off several fields where an EMT Basic certificate is useful. These included careers such as law enforcement, firefighters, nurses, medical doctors, and medical staff in the military.
“(This class) is a good stepping stone for whatever the next phase might be for them,” Andrus said. “And if nothing else, it provides very useful skills even for just being a mom or a dad.”
Andrus said that one of the high points of the class is in the opportunities each student has to go on ride-along shifts with local first responders. There the students have the chance to respond to real emergency medical incidents and work with actual patients, he said.
“For our size, we are a fairly busy department,” Andrus said. “We are averaging 11-12 medical calls per day. So the chances of these kids running on a real medical emergency during their ride-along is very high.”
The students in the class spoke very highly of the program, its instructor; and they expressed gratitude for it being offered to them as seniors in high school.
Classmates Aranza Mendez and Esteban Gasca were practicing together during class, checking each other’s blood pressure.
Mendez said that EMT training was her favorite class this year. She was also very enthusiastic about instructor Melanie Robison.
“She is an amazing teacher!” Mendez said. “She makes things fun and interesting. I think that she is the best teacher I have ever had.”
Gasca said that he was excited to go on the upcoming ride-along experiences. “It has been exciting to take this class,” he said. “But I’m really looking forward to see the concepts and skills being put into use. And maybe doing some of them myself.”
The eight students in the class have a variety of career goals. Some aspire to become EMTs after high school; maybe even to stay in Mesquite and go into a career in local emergency response. Others wanted to go on in the health care field in various areas such as physical therapy, nursing, radiology, and even becoming a surgeon.
“There are few classes in high school where kids find such complete and immediate application,” said Steven Waite. “But this class is something where they can see the uses of what they are learning immediately and right now. It is really a great program. And we hope that we can sustain it and maybe expand upon the concept into other career fields as well.”