In an exceptionally calm classroom, students methodically attend to their classmates. It looks like they’re responding to a natural disaster.
One girl is tying up her friend’s injured arm in a sling. A boy in the back fiddles with knobs on an oxygen tank. There’s a group in a side room putting a young woman into a neck brace and strapping her to a board in case she’s broken her spine.
But no one is hurt in this Twin Falls High School classroom. All of these seniors are training to become emergency medical technician certified. The course is both a career technical education and college dual credit opportunity for Magic Valley students.
EMT course instructor Gary Showers, who also works for Magic Valley Paramedics, said Wednesday that career technical education and dual credit offerings give kids a leg up. The classes can help them figure out what they want to do for a living early, and get them started on the right path before they show up on a college campus.
“When I was a kid, we didn’t have (technical education opportunities),” Showers said. “So I have a history degree. And I don’t teach history.”
The EMT course is small, typically around 15 or so students per semester. Because a student’s grade in the class will be reflected on her college transcript, Showers said he only accepts students into the course if he believes they can handle the work.
There’s a lot of work.
For starters, the class meets five days a week for two hours a day. Plus, each student does a 12-hour shift in the St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center emergency department and a 12-hour ambulance ride-along. There’s also a 12-hour clinical at Minidoka Memorial Hospital.
To get the coursework done, there are some Saturday classes and online portions of the class, too. At the end of the semester, students can choose to take the national EMT certification test, a choice Showers said is becoming more popular. In the past two semesters, 12 students have passed.
While the class is challenging, students who plan on studying medicine in college have a lot to gain. Stevie Burrows took the class last semester and is now EMT certified.
“I want to be a doctor,” Burrows said. “So it was just kind of a good way to get some experience in the medical field, so I can just decide if I like it or not.”
Only eight school districts in Idaho offer an EMT training course option. Sometimes students travel to take advantage of the class. Alissa Chatelain drives half an hour every day from Murtaugh and ends up being late to basketball practice most days because of the drive time.
That commute makes her days a bit more complicated from a scheduling standpoint, but being able to get her EMT certification done in high school—while getting both high school and college credit—is a boon as she works toward becoming a flight paramedic.
“We’re already ahead, basically,” said Kyleigh Bowles, who plans on becoming a surgeon.
The Twin Falls School District has increased its career technical education offerings in recent years, and the state is spending more on technical programs and dual enrollment opportunities. Idaho spent $15.8 million on dual credit courses last fiscal year, up from $13.4 million in fiscal year 2018. That’s an 18% bump.
According to the state, 64% of students who enroll in career technical education courses go to college. When you look at all students in Idaho, that dips to 48%. Numbers like those are part of the reason the state is so bullish about career technical education and dual enrollment.
The courses are becoming more popular here. Last year, roughly half of eligible Twin Falls School District students took 1,334 dual credit courses. So far this year, Twin Falls School District students are taking 30% more dual credit classes than they did in 2018-2019.
Students taking career technical education and dual enrollment classes, in many cases, don’t have to pay out of pocket. Each student receives $4,125 to spend on career technical education and dual credit courses, as well as tests such as the ACT or SAT. Courses costs $75 per credit, meaning that the EMT class, as a 10-credit course, costs students $750 of their $4,125 stipend.
“Being able to do this while we’re in high school, and also using our Fast Forward money to pay for it is a huge deal,” Bowles said.
The state has other reasons for encouraging students to use career technical education programs. More students with technical qualifications could help with the state’s labor shortages.
“Nationally right now it seems like there’s a really big shortage of EMTs and paramedics,” said Gabe Gutierrez, EMT lab coordinator and Magic Valley Paramedics paramedic. “Hopefully these classes being offered in high school kind of can help with that.”
Bowles and Burrows both said they’d like to see the state keep the Fast Forward program going.
“I went to a different school in California my freshman year,” Burrows said. “They didn’t have anything like this, so when I moved here I was super excited.”
Showers said that technical options are basically an all-around positive for students.
“It gives them an advantage,” he said. “When you have a student that has the training and patient care experience, that puts them ahead of some of the traditional students.”