Kenyale Cottingham has always wanted to help people. That’s why she’s training to become a paramedic.
“I feel like saving people’s lives will make everybody happy,” said the Westinghouse High School junior.
Cottingham is one of 15 students receiving paramedic training as part of the Pittsburgh Public Schools Career and Technical Education, or CTE, Emergency Response Technology program.
The program began last fall and is open to students in grades 10-12 throughout the school district. It involves training in firefighting, emergency medical services and law enforcement.
It’s also being seen as a means of diversifying Pittsburgh’s public safety workforce.
“We could help with that by creating a pipeline through our career and technical education division by adding a program which is now our emergency response program,” said CTE executive director Angela Mike.
Some have criticized the lack of diversity in the city’s public service departments. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that, according to the Pittsburgh Personnel Department, 8 percent of the fire bureau, 9 percent of emergency medical services and 14 percent of the police bureau are black.
The three-year program begins when students are in the 10th grade. It covers three consecutive classroom periods at the beginning of the day.
“Some of the things that they are learning, especially in the firefighting and emergency medical services portion are exactly what they would do if they went to the fire academy or school to become a certified EMT,” said firefighter and EMT Matthew Patrick, who teaches the courses.
The program is funded through a grant from the American Federation of Teachers and a fire truck and ambulance donated by the city are providing students with hands-on experience.
“The students qualify to take, at the end of the program, three certifications – EMT, first responder and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA),” Mike said. “They’ll also have an opportunity to take post-secondary college credits.”
For Cottingham, it’s an opportunity to prepare for the future.
“I think every student here likes the classes so they can get out and do the career they want,” she said.