With its diverse student body, the Schenectady City School District has special challenges. But it also has something that the city’s public safety agencies want, and need: potential minority recruits (both the fire and police departments are overwhelmingly white). After years of resisting a request by Fire Chief Robert Farstad to allow a public safety club at the high school, the district last week took a welcome step in agreeing to do that.
The district didn’t go as far as Farstad would have liked. He wanted to have firefighters teach students a series of paramedic and fire safety classes for college credit. That would have been a real enticement for students — and a good deal for everyone, since recruits are required to have 60 college credits and paramedic certification before they can start working for the department.
But the district was reluctant to add new electives that would make scheduling more difficult and detract from “educational priorities” like reading and math. So while public safety courses will be offered, it will be through the district’s adult education program.
Going to classes after school and/or Saturdays, and possibly with adults, won’t be as convenient or attractive to students. But this is a start, and if there's enough interest, Farstad can always go back to the district and ask for more access. It’s also important that the classes be kept free of charge, which should be possible since firefighters will be doing the teaching.
Schools are not doing their jobs if they don’t expose students to various careers. Not everyone can go to a four-year college — and even many of the best and brightest are finding that after earning such a degree, they may not be able to find work.
By contrast, public safety programs like these can inspire students to stay in school (and out of trouble), knowing they can eventually have a good-paying job in their own community. It is an innovative way to take advantage of the city’s diversity.