TWIN FALLS — By the time she graduates, Twin Falls High School student Tayler Stout will have two healthcare certifications and some hands-on experience.

Through a sports medicine class, the certified nursing assistant treated her classmates’ sports injuries on the sidelines. Now, she’s working toward becoming an emergency medical technician.

Tayler talked Wednesday with local business leaders and state legislators during the Twin Falls School District and Twin Falls Area Chamber of Commerce‘s yearly legislative tour.

The focus of this year’s tour was preparing students for a career.

While students decades ago might have taken home economics, students now are focused on career-based classes, Twin Falls School District Superintendent Brady Dickinson told about 30 tour attendees.

The tour was a chance for lawmakers to get an inside look into the local education system. They’re preparing to head back to Boise in January for a new legislative session.

Public education is a huge chunk of Idaho’s budget. Plus, decisions on other education-related topics will affect thousands of students and school employees across the Gem State.

State legislators in attendance included Democrats Sen. Michelle Stennett of Ketchum and Rep. Sally Toone from Gooding, and Republicans Clark Kauffman of Filer, Stephen Hartgen of Twin Falls and Sen. Lee Heider of Twin Falls.

They ate breakfast prepared by culinary students at Twin Falls High, and they visited welding and EMT classes.

Later in the morning, they boarded a school bus to tour Harrison Elementary School, attend a student panel and to learn about how the school uses “The Leader in Me” initiative.

Dickinson told visitors they’ve probably heard a lot about Idaho’s go-on rate — how many high school graduates pursue some form of higher education, such as college or workforce training.

“I want to take that a step further,” he said, by helping students define which career they’re interested in earlier and helping them find a path to get there.

Especially here in south-central Idaho, with the unemployment rate at 2.6 percent, there’s a real shortage of labor, Dickinson said.

Here are a few topics that came up during the tour:

Culinary arts and welding

Twin Falls High’s culinary students are studying to take an exam soon to earn a ServSafe certificate, which is an industry standard.

Restaurants must have at least one person on staff for each shift who’s ServSafe certified, said teacher Erin Lundy. Employees who are certified can get bumped to a higher level of employment, she added.

Welding technology teacher Joe Woodland talked said students love to get their hands dirty in his class.

As students progress in the program, they ultimately have the opportunity to take an industry-recognized certification test.

EMT

On Wednesday, six high school seniors in the EMT program, a semester-long dual-credit class through the College of Southern Idaho, were presenting to an introductory health occupations class.

The seniors are getting ready to take a licensing exam and start an internship as an EMT.

They completed a round robin assessment lab as state legislators and business leaders watched. Two of the students played the role of EMTs, two were patients and two walked around to answer visitors’ questions.

“Usually, they’re these quick practices,” EMT student Sebastian Powell said, lasting six to 10 minutes. The name of the game in the medical world, he said, is to provide the highest-quality care as quickly as possible.

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Students in the EMT program have already taken prerequisite classes such as health occupations and medical terminology.

‘State of the District’

During the presentation, Dickinson covered topics such as new schools, renovation and expansion projects, finances and carryover funding, the teacher shortage, class sizes and student accomplishments.

Dickinson displayed a graph showing a steep climb in student numbers over the years. “Obviously, enrollment continues to grow in the Twin Falls School District,” he said.

Now, there are more than 9,400 students, and numbers keep increasing throughout the school year. Within a couple of years, the district will likely hit the 10,000-student mark, Dickinson said.

In terms of demographics, refugees make up less than 1 percent of the school district’s enrollment. And 64 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.

Older school campuses in Twin Falls are an average of 53 years old, Dickinson said. “We’ve really worked hard to maintain our buildings.”

He said he wants to focus on ensuring parity, meaning equal opportunities for students regardless of the age of the school they attend. “We don’t want a situation of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’”

Another big topic was school security, such as new high-definition security cameras and working to improve access control at older school buildings.

“It’s a balancing act,” Dickinson said. “We want schools to be warm and welcoming, but we don’t want to have a prison mentality.”

One new change this year is using a Raptor system in school front offices. Visitors must provide identification and their information is run through a nationwide sex offender database.

There’s also a school district-wide radio system administrators use to communicate in case of an emergency such as a school lock down.

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