A new program at Warren Tech is working to address the need for more emergency dispatchers nationwide. The program, held at the north campus at Arvada West High, teaches students the skills to become …
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A new program at Warren Tech is working to address the need for more emergency dispatchers nationwide.
The program, held at the north campus at Arvada West High, teaches students the skills to become a 911 dispatcher once they graduate.
“The class is set up to create telecommunications,” said instructor Nanci Tatum. “But I call us telecommunicarers because dispatchers, we are the first of the first responders. We provide phone care. We’re the ones that have to calm callers down, manage the call and get all the information accurately and fast so that the responders can get there fast.”
The program has been in the works for several years, first brought to principal Heather Keeton’s attention by former Arvada Chief of Police Don Wick. Through partnerships with and donations from Jefferson County’s emergency dispatch center, Jeffcom 911, and TriTech Software Systems, Warren Tech was able to get the program started for the 2018-19 school year.
“Students are working on equipment and software that is industry standard,” Keeton said. “We really wouldn’t have been able to start this program so quickly without their help.”
Keeton said the program gives students an opportunity to make good money and make a difference right out of high school. It also allows them to make connections for a future career path.
That is the goal of senior Ashlynn Koger, who drives from Evergreen to Arvada to attend the program.
Koger has goals of going into law enforcement, but cannot join a police department until she is 21. She hopes that the skills she learns in class will provide her the opportunity to work as a 911 dispatcher until she is old enough to become an officer.
The program, which was open to current Warren Tech seniors for the pilot year, has 17 students. Next year, it will open to all seniors in the district.
“This is a very difficult career, there’s a lot of graphic nature and it takes a type of maturity” Keeton said. “We just felt it was more age appropriate for seniors simply because of the kinds of things students are hearing and doing.”
The high-stress nature of the job is one reason why emergency dispatch centers are seeing a shortage across the country, said Jeff Streeter, executive director of Jeffcom 911, the dispatching center in Jefferson County.
“The turnover has been high,” Streeter said. “We as a country and in Colorado are the beneficiaries of low unemployment. So when you find jobs that don’t carry the stress that this does, people pull away.”
Stress management is something instructor Nanci Tatum incorporates into class daily.
“Its imperative,” Tatum said of distressing. “Every day at the end of class I want to focus on self-care. Students need to know how to take care of themselves regardless of what profession they’re in. The better they take care of themselves, the better they can perform in the field.”
After each class, which includes listening to real 911 calls, Tatum’s class distresses with things like aromatherapy, cartoons, comedic videos, tea, coloring, listening to music and dancing.
“it builds up resiliency,” Tatum said. “They’re hearing hellacious stuff and I want them to be strong and I don’t want them to get PTSD from any of those calls.”
Tatum, who has more than 30 years experience as a 911 dispatcher, screens all calls listened to in class before they are played and students have the option to step out of the classroom if they need to take a break.
Tatum said at first, she was worried about creating dispatchers too early. But she finds that students in the program have even more support than those in the field.
Student Angelina Armenta, said the program has opened a lot of opportunities for her.
“It really changes your perspective as a person,” she said. “You learn to be more compassionate and more open minded.”
Students in the program are learning on equipment used throughout the metro area and also sit in on class at Jeffcom.
“I’ve met a lot of these kids and they are eyes-wide-open and loving it, excited and eager to learn,” Streeter said. “We fully expect to help them grow the project as time goes on. We’re committed to being a part of it. This program is a benefit not just to Jeffcom, this program benefits all of the metro area.”
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