Kaitlyn Merlino is learning what it's like to work as an emergency medical technician, a firefighter and a police officer.
She has decided she doesn't want to pursue a career in those fields, though she does plan to continue to volunteer as a Coal Township firefighter. Instead, her Protective Services classes at Northumberland County Career and Technology Center (NCCTC) have led her to consider a career in nursing.
Isaiah Bentinez thought he wanted to be a corrections officer, but after taking the Protective Services curriculum, he wants to be an EMT.
The same for Caleb Brown. He was interested in police work but now wants to be an EMT.
Students from the Shamokin, Mount Carmel and Line Mountain school districts and Our Lady of Lourdes Regional High School who attend NCCTC either part-time or full-time are getting a head start on careers as emergency responders. In some cases, they can earn college credit. Even if they decide on other careers, they are learning valuable skills they could use in other jobs or as volunteers, said their teacher, Matt Dunn.
He said the students receive certification in CPR and first aid.
Merlino, 18, like Bentinez and Brown a Shamokin Area senior, said she was interested in firefighting. "I originally was in child care (at the school)," she said. "It wasn't for me."
She is a volunteer firefighter in Coal Township, and she has had enough training to enter a burning structure. She will continue to volunteer, but she plans to become a certified nursing assistant, or CNA, then eventually become a registered nurse.
Merlino said the hands-on medical knowledge she gained in the EMT classes helped her decide to go into nursing.
"Me and my stepdad were talking about being a CO (corrections officer)," said Bentinez, 17. "Being here, I don't want to be a CO, I'm thinking about being an EMT. When I first started learning CPR, that is what got me interested in this."
Brown, 18, was thinking of entering the police force, but changed his mind.
"I personally got more interested in EMS," he said.
He said he always liked biology and anatomy.
"It's always better to follow a dream," Brown said.
Dunn said that for EMT certification, the students must take a hands-on test through the state.
"We get them ready up to that point," Dunn said.
The criminal justice classes are basic entry-level classes that teach students about self-defense, restraints, how to transport prisoners, the laws of arrest and levels of encounters. The "classroom" for Protective Services is more like a large garage, where a police cruiser and an ambulance are used for students to become familiar with them. The students practice loading a patient into the ambulance. A door in a frame stands near the middle of the room for students to practice forced entry.
"Some students find summer work in security," Dunn said.
A handful of recent grads work at the new Northumberland County Prison, he said.
"I encourage them to go out and get that experience," he added.
Some of his students have joined the military.
This school year, 16 students are taking the classes, which is a bit less than the average of 20 who usually take it. Dunn said 15 students in the curriculum graduated last year.
He said the classes follow the state program of study for such areas as security, corrections, policing, juvenile justice, firefighting, emergency management and hazardous materials.
"Some students come for one year," Dunn said. "The majority of students come for a three-year schedule."
The program opened in the mid-1990s. Dunn has been teaching the classes since 2011.
"It's always been a well-attended program," said Dunn, who is an EMT, a volunteer firefighter in Coal Township and a part-time Shamokin police officer. He also previously worked as a campus police officer on Penn State's Schuylkill campus.