Excellence Award Recipient Spotlight
On approximately 180 mornings every year, nearly six million students report to Texas public schools with the expectation that they will arrive safely home after the last bell rings. Considering the stakes, it is comforting to know that administrators, staff, and trained professionals are ready to take charge during an emergency. But what if an adult is not immediately on the scene?
At Eanes ISD’s Westlake High School, students are honing life-saving skills such as fire prevention, hazard identification, first aid, search and rescue, and crowd control. The program is called Teen Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), and it prepares young people to step up and support others when the unexpected happens.
Meeting a need where they live
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) created Teen CERT to boost the country’s emergency response capacity. Westlake introduced the program in 2012 as a small after-school pilot. Interest grew steadily, and Teen CERT now serves 80 students who earn elective credit in the beginner and advanced classes.
Because of Teen CERT’s success, Eanes ISD was one of just 10 Fund members that earned a 2019 Excellence Award. Laura Santos-Farry, the district’s director of safety and risk management, was on the Teen CERT launch team. She complimented the advanced-class students for taking their skills beyond the walls of Westlake High School.
“They have trained peers and teachers at most of our secondary school campuses in Stop the Bleed,” said Santos-Farry. “They have also shared their expertise in CPR, automated external defibrillators, first aid, fire extinguishers, and Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events. This training is critical in communities, and our students came together to meet the need right here where they live.”
As school violence has increased, so has law enforcement presence on campus. Across Texas, school-based law enforcement (SBLE) officers are proactively identifying and addressing threats. To fill service gaps, SBLE organizations partner with fire departments, EMS, and traditional law enforcement.
With a network of trained emergency response professionals keeping a watchful eye over students, staff, and visitors, why involve teens?
“Teens know the school’s physical environment and social structure better than anyone,” said Westlake health science teacher and Teen CERT sponsor Jackie Uselton. “They’re in a good position to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Teens also have clout in earning community support and raising funds. Most importantly, teens influence their peers’ behavior, especially during emergencies.”
Any Westlake student can enroll in the basic Teen CERT class. Uselton adds that self-starters who work well with minimal supervision tend to excel in the program. Some even earn leadership roles.
Meet this year’s Teen CERT commander
Lauren Blaydon learned about Teen CERT during freshman orientation. Now a senior, she serves as Teen CERT commander for the 2019-2020 school year. Her responsibilities include overseeing volunteer events, teaching CPR, and ensuring officers complete their duties effectively.
For Blaydon, Teen CERT offers an opportunity to combine her interest in the medical field with her passion for making an impact in others’ lives.
“I fell in love with Teen CERT because it doesn’t just teach skills; it allows us to put those skills into practice. Besides the classes we lead across the district, we coordinate safety teams, first aid, and crowd control for every football game. We also make the student body aware of safety concerns and the emergency operations plan. Not many clubs give you that level of hands-on experience.”
Blaydon plans to continue using her skills beyond her Teen CERT tenure. After graduation, she will pursue a medical degree and launch an adult CERT program for fellow students. She credits Teen CERT for preparing her to pursue her ambitious goals.
What about return on investment?
FEMA offers a guide to help administrators, staff, or students launch a Teen CERT program. The guide shares first-hand experiences and best practices from program coordinators across the country. Uselton said treating the first year as an after-school pilot gave Westlake’s team time to lay a strong foundation.
“We gauged interest, worked out logistics, and demonstrated the program’s sustainability,” said Uselton. “When we pitched it to the board of directors, their only concern was cost. Fortunately, our community has embraced and supported the program.”
Uselton estimates that any district can start a Teen CERT program that serves 10 to 15 students for about $500. FEMA offers the curriculum at no charge. Westlake participants pay $25 annually to offset the costs of CERT backpacks, safety gear, field trips, competitions, community involvement opportunities, and other activities that keep students engaged.
Leadership also worked with the City of Austin to explore community partnerships. Organizations such as the fire department and EMS have supported the Westlake program with equipment, supplies, and teaching expertise. The next step is to collaborate with area businesses.
Like most important initiatives, Teen CERT requires buy-in from the top. If your organization wants to make a case to leadership, try leading with the potential return on investment.
“Emergencies can happen anytime, anyplace,” said Santos-Farry. “When they do, we all have the best chance to survive when everyone, including students, knows what to do. That is a return you cannot quantify.”
Even a simple idea can make a difference
The Fund’s Excellence Award program recognizes members who implement exemplary solutions to risk management challenges. Eanes ISD and our other winners earn a $1,000 honorarium to apply toward their risk management initiatives. We also recognize them in front of their peers during our annual Members’ Conference. The application opens every year in November and closes the following January.
Pictured above: Previous member of the Teen CERT program, Nolan Screen accepted the Excellence Award at Members’ Conference 2019 (he is now a college student).