When I Grow Up, I Want to Be a Dispatcher
In the outskirts of Las Vegas there exists a unique school, The Veteran’s Tribute Career and Technical Academy (VTCTA), dedicated to preparing students for careers in public service. Being one of, if not the only, high schools in the nation focused on public service, VTCTA prepares students for college through the standard high school curriculum of science, math, English and other required subjects, but the program also includes courses in criminal justice, forensic science, emergency medical services, law enforcement and 9-1-1 dispatch.
As a high-achieving magnet school, VTCTA attracts the best of the best students from Clark County and selects students based on academic records, citizenship and attendance. The student body represents culturally and economically diverse backgrounds with 65 percent of students enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program. But all 765 students have one thing in common — a passion for public service.
“I love the opportunities that this school has provided to me,” says Eric Guerrero, a senior at VTCTA. “I hope to be a 9-1-1 dispatch specialist because I want to be the unsung hero behind the doors that people don’t see but talk to. The one that helps them when they are going through their toughest times.”
VTCTA Principal Boffelli, a former dispatcher at Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, opened the school in 2009 and crafted a curriculum without a model to follow. To develop the 9-1-1 Dispatch program, Principal Boffelli called upon Lori Henricksen, a former colleague from her days in dispatch.
Ms. Henricksen teaches her 9-1-1 Dispatch students in a state-of-the art 9-1-1 call center where they learn civil and criminal law, advanced communication skills (phone and radio), crisis intervention, event preparation, use of community and agency resources, ICS, stress management and employability skills. Students undergo in-depth training in a simulated dispatch lab along with their rigorous classroom program, which includes history and emerging trends along with an overview of various policies and procedures. Conducting different exercises and scenarios, students gain real-world, hands-on experience with call taking and dispatch software used in communication centers throughout the nation.
“My experience has been amazing,” says Ms. Henricksen. “I never thought I would teach high school, but I get the best of both worlds. I get to teach the job that I love, and I absolutely loved being a dispatcher. And to teach these students to have the passion that I have for it is incredible.”
The school boasts a 100 percent graduation rate where 79 percent of its students continue to post-secondary education and 14 percent enlist in the military. Many of the students who choose to go directly into a public service career are qualified, competitive candidates who enjoy their new professional careers. Through partnerships with agencies in Clark County and Las Vegas community and mentorships with the agency’s senior leaders, VTCTA provides its students with experience and first-hand knowledge that cannot be provided from text books.
Bob Koenig is VP of Sales at TriTech Software Systems.