[Skip to Content]
Students in the emergency medical technician certification program at PSLA at Fowler practice an emergency scenario in February with the help of the Hinsdale Fire Department.

Emergency Medicine teams up with SCSD to offer EMT certification for students in Public Leadership Academy

This school year, instructors from Upstate Medical University’s Department of Emergency Medicine are helping dozens of Syracuse City School District students obtain emergency medical technician certification before they graduate high school.

The program is part of the Public Service Leadership Academy at Fowler, which combines high school with career and technical training (CTEs) in areas such as firefighting and emergency medical services. PSLA programs immerse students in an educational track with specific career goals or aspirations. Freshmen and sophomores at PSLA take one 45-minute class per day dedicated to their specialty/career pathway. That increases to 90 minutes per day during the student’s junior and senior years – all in addition to regular high school coursework.

Upstate partnered with the Syracuse City School District for the 2018-2019 school year to deliver a New York State EMT program for the school’s senior class. Six students graduated from the program in June. The program has grown significantly since then with 30 students enrolled in the senior-year EMT program this fall. Upon certification graduates are eligible for a job to serve as an EMT in the community.

“It was a unique opportunity and the kids were fabulous,” said Douglas Sandbrook, paramedic program director and EMS liaison at Upstate. Sandbrook helped coordinate the SCSD partnership and taught some of the classes. “The thing that stood out was their willingness to be there and be involved. The other unique piece to the program was the diversity in the classroom; there are more than 20 languages spoken at PSLA. These students have life experiences many will only read about. They want to learn, they care about their community and family and possess compassion and empathy.”

Ahmed Ali, 19, was one of the five June graduates of the EMT program at PSLA. Ali and seven family members fled Iraq in 2015 amid rising violence and the threat of ISIS. Ali spoke little English when he arrived in Syracuse and said he did not want to attend PSLA because he wanted a traditional American high school experience. But the more he learned about PSLA’s unique approach to education, the more he liked the school and the work.

He’s currently studying math and science at Onondaga Community College with plans to go to dental school. The PSLA program – particularly the EMT program in his senior year – was an experience that helped Ali in many ways, he said.

“All of my Upstate instructors were like family,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it was a huge challenge for me. But it was a great experience and I’m so glad I did it.”

In addition to about 180 hours of classroom time, the program includes hands-on instruction and workshops, all of which culminates in a state certification exam, Sandbrook said. The students were also required to complete two 12-hour ride-alongs on a local ambulance, said PSLA teacher and EMT instructor Brandi Schaefer.

“They would come back the next day and tell us what they saw and what they did,” Schaefer said. “That’s really fulfilling to see them so excited about the path that we’re working to prepare them for.”

Schaefer said the state certification piece – made possible by the affiliation with Upstate – enhances the program. Many of the EMT program students want to pursue post-secondary education and careers in healthcare, Schaefer said. This program helps those students complete necessary patient contact hours, she said.

“They come in as high school students but by the time they leave they are so much more mature. The state certification creates more of an adult learning environment,” Schaefer said.

Ali, who lives on the north side of Syracuse, credits the PSLA EMT program with helping him find a path to dental school.

“Iraq is not really safe. There isn’t the best future there,” he said. “Here is my future. In America I can be anything I want to be as long as I put the work in.”

Caption: Students in the emergency medical technician certification program at PSLA at Fowler practice an emergency scenario in February with the help of the Hinsdale Fire Department.