Educated to be lifesavers

Pilgrim program gains certification, grads ready to be EMTs

Posted 2/1/23

It’s Friday afternoon at Pilgrim High School. Students are sprawled on the floor of Lisa Tamburini’s classroom and a National Guardsman is talking freshmen through applying tourniquets to …

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Educated to be lifesavers

Pilgrim program gains certification, grads ready to be EMTs


It’s Friday afternoon at Pilgrim High School. Students are sprawled on the floor of Lisa Tamburini’s classroom and a National Guardsman is talking freshmen through applying tourniquets to prevent blood loss. If not for the giggles from excitable teens, the current news cycle might make it easy to imagine more dire connotations to such a scene.

Although the atmosphere may be jovial, the skills which students in Pilgrim’s new Lifesaver Career and Technical Education (CTE) program are learning have the potential to be deadly serious.

“Since we introduced the very first Lifesaver class, I’ve had at least one or two students a year who end up using techniques they learned here outside of the classroom,” said physical education teacher Tamburini, the program’s instructor. “They’ll come in the next day and say ‘My father was choking and I was able to save him!’ or something similar, and they’ll have the most incredible look on their faces. It gives a kid so much confidence to know that they can help others like that.”

The 85-student program is designed to offer teens the skills and training needed to become emergency medical technicians (EMTs); upon graduation, they will have learned the full scope of material included on the state’s EMT certification exam. Students also gain Red Cross certifications for skills like First Aid, CPR, and AED usage.

First introduced in 2016 as one of Pilgrim’s “Pathway” courses, Lifesaver was approved as a CTE program by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) in December.

“Our pathway programs offer a series of classes within a specific field or topic, almost like a miniature version of a major in college,” explained Dr. Cheri Guerra, the school’s Assistant Principal of Teaching and Learning. “Getting this upgraded to a CTE allows us to expand even further. It means that we can add new material to the course, including by tailoring the rest of the student’s curriculum to supplement what their new focus. For example, Lifesaver students typically take anatomy and physiology for their science elective to help them prepare.”

Lifesaver is one of two CTE programs currently offered at Pilgrim, together with Studio 107, which provides students with audio and video technology training. Like other school districts throughout the state, Warwick has sought to expand its CTE offerings, due in part to the fact that they can attract additional funding into the district.

“Students from other districts which do not offer medical programs can sign up to take Lifesaver at Pilgrim, and the tuition which their home district sets aside for them goes to Warwick instead,” Guerra said.

The 2023 catalogue of CTE programs published by RIDE includes similar programs at South Kingstown and West Warwick High Schools. Guerra said that Warwick students will receive preference over out-of-district students during registration.

According to Tamburini, the growth of the Lifesaver program has been directly proportional to student interest. “We started with just a single ‘Lifesaver’ class focusing on basic adult and pediatric first aid,” she said. “It proved so popular that we introduced a second class focusing on remote and wilderness first aid, and then that was so popular we ended up creating a ‘Lifesaver 3.’”

Even that does not seem to have satiated the interest of students like Alyssa Moffat, however.

“I took Lifesaver 1 and loved it so much that I signed up for both of the others,” the senior explained. “There were a few of us that took all the classes and wanted to keep going, so they started letting us work as assistants to teach the new students.”

The program currently includes about eight “interns” who wanted to continue with Lifesaver even after completing all of the course material.

“We try to frame education in a way that rewards students for their hard work by letting them study the topics that really interest them,” said Pilgrim Principal Toby Gibbons. “The demand for this class has been so high that we’ve been looking for new ways to expand upon it and create more connections and opportunities for students.”

According to Gibbons, community connections have been key to expanding the program, and Pilgrim openly welcomes any businesses or organizations interested in working with students from the program to reach out. So far, students have attended volunteer opportunities at Rhode Island Hospital, learned water rescue techniques at McDermott Pool and attended training field trips organized by the RI National Guard.

“The National Guard has been one of our biggest community supporters,” Tamburini said. “They’ve taken our students on trips to Camp Fogarty to learn about advanced first aid and survival skills, as well as coming here regularly to give our students hands-on lessons. One really incredible experience has them learn how to load a wounded patient strapped to a litter onto a Blackhawk helicopter to be evacuated.”

Sgt. William Naylor, the National Guard recruiter for Pilgrim, said the program caught the Guard’s interest early on.

“I’ve only started assisting here recently, but the Guard has been involved pretty much since the beginning,” said Naylor. “It gives us a chance to get to know the students better and gives them a chance to learn more about us.”

The Guard connection appears to have made quite an impression on at least two freshmen in the program, both of whom have developed an interest in a military career following their lifesaving studies.

“At the start of this class, my only medical knowledge was how to apply a Band-Aid,” joked Ian Machado, adding that his aspirations of joining the Air Force were heavily influenced by the Guard field trips. His friend and classmate Will Auger is also discerning a military future, although he has set his sights a bit closer to earth.

“I’ve been thinking about the Army for a career,” Auger said. “Like Ian, I also didn’t have any medical knowledge coming in. I wanted to take the class to be able to expand my own educational horizons and while also learning some useful skills to possibly help people.”

Tamburini says that both boys have gained more than just professional ambitions through the class.

“When they started at Pilgrim this year, Will and Ian were both really shy,” she said. “They’ve learned so much through Lifesaver and it’s amazing to see how it has helped shape not just their interests, but their way of interacting with other students.”

Both Auger and Machado are members of Pilgrim’s Lifesaver Emergency Medical Team, an extracurricular organization mainly comprised of students from the CTE program. “Our student EMTs are present at sports games and school events to provide emergency medical help if needed,” said Tamburini. “They have their own uniform sweatshirts and remain on call at everything to basketball and baseball games to ‘Pilgrim Idol’. They haven’t needed to save anyone yet, but they’re ready to go if needed.”

One should hope that such a need will not arise any time soon but, if it does, the Pilgrim community ought to feel a bit safer knowing that their fellow Patriots are ready to rush to the rescue.

EMT, lifesaving


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