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Mass. high school students work on EMT certification amid workforce shortage

Chicopee students are partnered with a local ambulance company to have certification by graduation


Students from Chicopee High and Chicopee Comprehensive High schools listen to an instructor. The students are taking an after-school course to earn EMT certifications.

Don Treeger/Republican staff

By Jeanette DeForge

CHICOPEE, Mass. — Since February, a group of high school seniors have eschewed typical after-school activities. Instead, they are learning CPR, practicing traction splints and studying techniques to strap a patient onto a backboard.

The Chicopee Public Schools’ Career and Technical Education department partnered with a local ambulance company to allow 14 students to spend the last half of their school year studying to be emergency medical technicians. By graduation, most hope to have passed the intensive test to be certified to work on an ambulance.

“It opens so many doors and pathways,” said Elizabeth Hinnebush, lead educator for the program. “There are a lot of summer jobs out there for a certified EMT.”

The Career and Technical Education department, which is constantly expanding to offer non-traditional courses, started talking with officials from the EMT Academy during the COVID-19 pandemic about developing a partnership, said Carl Ingram, director of the department.

It seemed ideal. The EMT Academy, located on West Main Street, is a walkable distance from Chicopee High and Comprehensive High schools, and the academy was willing to find a way to schedule classes so they wouldn’t interfere with students’ regular classes.

But the program also helps National Ambulance, which runs the EMT Academy, because it gives them a new crop of potential employees, said Kerry Panto-Konopka, assistant director of the academy.

“There is a national shortage in EMS,” she said.

The city first piloted the program in 2021 with about a half-dozen students from Chicopee High School. One of those graduates is now working as an instructor for the academy and another joined the military and is working as a medic, Panto-Konopka said.


Kerry Panto-Konopka, assistant director of the EMT Academy in Chicopee(left) talks with lead teacher Elizabeth Hinnebusch and Carl Ingram, director of Career and Technical Education at Chicopee Schools. His students take courses at the academy to prepare to be health professionals.

Don Treeger/ The Republican

The city paused the program for a year, but then it decided to start it again, this time opening it up to Chicopee and Comprehensive High students.

The EMT Academy isn’t the only one which is trying creative ideas to attract new employees. AMR in Springfield started an Earn While You Learn program in 2019, offering people free training and paying its students a regular salary while they take classes to become certified.

“I want to go into the medical field and I thought it would be a good stepping stone” said Duwayne Barker, a Chicopee High School senior who said he plans to study chemistry in college next year and hopes one day to become a cardiothoracic surgeon.

While Barker is heading to college in the fall, he said he hopes to use the EMT certification to secure a weekend and summer job working on an ambulance, for instance.

Students have a variety of reasons for taking the class. Some like Barker are interested in the medical field and want to get a head start. Some are not sure what they want to do after high school, so this gives them an opportunity to receive free career training, Ingram said.

With an EMT certification, graduates have a lot of options beyond working on an ambulance, such as securing a job in a hospital emergency room or working with disaster management. It also gives them a boost if they want to be a police officer or firefighter.

Connor Davis, a Comprehensive High senior, said his father and brother are both firefighters and he is interested in following their footsteps. Since new city firefighters have to be certified as EMTs, taking the course made sense to him.

Currently, he is also studying to be an electrician, so he said he will likely start with a job in that field since he won’t turn 18 until September.


Students from Chicopee High and Chicopee Comprehensive High schools listen to an instructor. The students are taking an after-school course to earn EMT certifications.

Don Treeger/Republican staff

Because students must be 18 to take the certification exam, the class is only open to high school seniors. Those who will turn 18 after May when the written and practical exams take place have been invited to take refresher courses until they are eligible to receive their certifications, Panto-Konopka said.

Registering for the about 150-hour course is a big commitment. Students attend class from 1:30 to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They also must commit to coming in once a month for an 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. class where they learn hands-on skills, Ingram said.

Students receive two-and-a-half credits, which is the equivalent of a half-year course, although Ingram said none of the participants need the credits. In fact, many are giving up senior privileges which allow them to skip their first or last class period of the day since they have fulfilled their graduation requirements already.

“The amount of work it is like taking another science class or more,” Ingram said.

But Ingram said none of the students are taking the class because they need credits; they want the career opportunities that comes with being a certified EMT.

“One of the things is it helps kids clarify what they want to do in the future,” Ingram said. “I always say, it is as important to know what you don’t want to do as it is to know what you want to do.”

The School Department pays $1,500 in tuition per student attending the class, which includes the cost of taking the certification exam. It actually has 20 slots available. Initially, 15 registered with one moving to another community before the course was completed, Ingram said.

While having younger students is not typical for the EMT Academy, Hinnebusch said she has not seen any challenges with the new program. The students started committed to the program, always do their homework and are generally as well or better prepared than those in the regular classes.

“They come in with better study habits,” she said. “They are on point. Their grades are just as good or better.”

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