Closer Look

FHS program offers career paths

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Anna Waskey

High school students across the country are increasingly exploring alternative career paths that do not require four years – and more – of college. Trade schools to learn specific skills and first responder options are being sought-after.

Franklin High School (FHS) offers a safety program that “shapes responsible citizens [and] serves a critical need for first responders in Macon County,” said Colleen Strickland, director of Career and Technical Education (CTE). 

According to Larry Pickens, the program’s instructor, “Fall of 2016 was the first time FHS offered Public Safety. In 2019, we brought the Public Safety class back to FHS to stay.”

The program allows students to expand their knowledge and experience regarding public safety careers, whether law enforcement, fire service, corrections, emergency medical services (EMS), or wildland fire service.

“Across the nation, there is a huge demand for public safety personnel,” said Pickens. “I agreed to teach the first class because, as an officer in a local fire department and part-time EMS employee, I saw a need to get the next generation involved in protecting our community.”

THE NORTH Carolina State Bureau of Investigation office in Asheville was a field trip opportunity this fall for students enrolled in the Public Safety program.

Public Safety is introduced as a feasible career path. The Public Safety program was requested by the “former Macon County CTE Director, Nancy Cantrell. [She] approached me in 2016 about teaching the Public Safety class because of my background in public safety. It was reintroduced again in 2019 because the need in our town and county started to become more evident,” said Pickens.

“The Public Safety Program is a North Carolina CTE course; therefore the state provides the funding and curriculum. Our county commissioners helped with the funding this year so I could teach a fourth class of Public Safety during the day.”

The program involves not just classroom instruction, but important visits to meet first responders to understand their roles.

FHS’s PUBLIC Safety program students recently toured a regional hazardous material response unit.

“The [Macon County] school system has been very supportive with providing a bus and encouraging opportunities to visit many local public safety departments in the county and a couple outside the county,” added Pickens. “These visits provide the students a chance to see how the material they learn is applied in real-life situations. The visits and guest speakers from our own community are very motivating factors in the success of our program.”

The class does, indeed, take many field trips, according to Pickens.

“The field trips that we take expose the students to what it is really like working these jobs,” relayed Pickens. “We have had a couple of trips canceled due to departments being on a call; this is very much real life. Your public safety personnel, whether paid or volunteer, are never sure when they are going to get home or how long they may get to stay there. So, showing the students this side of it is just real life. Also, getting to talk to these people and ask questions is much better than watching a show or reading it in a book. The trips also make the students aware of what services are around them that they may not even know about.”

As public safety is an entirely hands-on field, it is vital that students are given the opportunity to experience the “real deal,” Pickens said. “I try to give the students real-life experiences of what is involved with each one of the careers, both the good and the bad. These jobs are not easy and are not for everyone. However, there are some very rewarding times that accrue with these jobs. Nobody in a public safety career is doing it for the money or fame. The students have to realize that the public safety career is to help your neighbor and the goodness of mankind. It is a calling.”

A STATE Bureau of Investigation bomb technician shows FHS Public Safety students tools used in his line of work.

Twenty-four FHS students were enrolled in Public Safety 1 class this fall. Public Safety 1 covers first responder ca and the legal system.

“For the first time at FHS we will have a Public Safety 2 program,” said Pickens. “It is looking like we will have around 10 students in that class. These students will be trained in dispatching and community emergency response in addition to more in-depth studies of the public safety system.”

To finish the program, each student will complete four of FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] Incident Command System courses and pass a written state exam.

For students who express serious interest in a first responder career, Pickens encourages them to join a local volunteer fire department as well as seek other routes for helping in the community.

“By imparting essential safety knowledge and skills, the program ensures that students are well-prepared to contribute effectively to emergency situations, highlighting the pathway’s vital role in supporting the community,” said Strickland. “Mr. Pickens’ commitment further underscores the pathway’s significance in addressing the pressing needs of first responders and fostering a sense of civic duty among students.”

“The success of this program displays the excitement that Macon County’s youth contains to explore this career pathway,” concluded Pickens.

Anna Waskey is a junior at Franklin High School and an honor student.