PORT ORANGE, Fla. — In Volusia County, dozens of graduating seniors across four high schools passed the 911 Public Safety Telecommunicator certification exam and became licensed with the state.

What You Need To Know

  • Students at Atlantic, Mainland, New Smyrna Beach and University High School trained for and passed the 911 Public Safety Telecommunicator certification exam

  • Across Volusia County, students have taken and passed more than 8,000 career and technical certification exams in various fields during the past school year, according the county

  • In Port Orange, the Academy of Law and Government at Atlantic High School prepares students for careers in public service, law and criminal justice

More than half of 911 centers in the U.S. are facing staffing shortages, according to a 2023 study by the National Association of State 911 Administrators and the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch. In Volusia County, local high school programs are helping to bridge the gap.

This year, students from four public high schools trained for the state’s 911 Public Safety Telecommunicator certification exam. At Atlantic High School, 14 graduating seniors took the exam and are now state-licensed 911 telecommunicators. 

It’s part of the Academy of Law and Government (ALAG), which is one of the school’s career academies. The academy is designed for students who are interested in becoming lawyers, first responders, government officials and more. Margo Rivera, the director of the academy, said students take courses like law studies and criminal justice.

“Their electives are based in the fields of public service, law and criminal justice,” Rivera said. “A lot of them also take the same core classes together. It's really like a mini school within a school.”

During senior year, students take Rivera’s 911 Dispatchers class. She said the biggest thing students learn is how to work under pressure.

“You really have to put yourself in somebody else's shoes and think critically, think quickly, think on your feet and problem solve very fast while doing several things at once,” Rivera said.

Kenzie Perry is a graduating senior in the academy. She spent the last year in Rivera’s class training for the state certification exam. She said one thing she learned in the class is how much work goes into being a telecommunicator. She said people don’t realize the amount of stress telecommunicators go through as the first point of contact for people in emergencies.

“The stress that people go through in that environment, nobody else understands it,” Perry said. “I think the dispatchers take on everybody else's problems. It's just a lot.”

Perry is one of fourteen students who took and passed the certification exam. All graduating ALAG seniors became licensed with the state.

“It’s not just a certification,” Rivera said. “This is actually a state license, just like a teacher would need to have, or a police officer or a nurse. So, it's something that they can keep for the rest of their life, put on their resume.”

Rivera said several students have started careers as telecommunicators after high school. She said that even for students who don’t go into the career field, the certification helps them go into other careers in public service. She said it also gives students skills like problem-solving and thinking on their feet. 

After graduation, Perry is attending the University of South Florida, where she plans to study criminology. She said once classes start, she’s considering working as a telecommunicator while she’s in school. Overall, Perry said she’s grateful for ALAG for inspiring her career path and for the opportunity to become a licensed telecommunicator. 

“I think it was a really great opportunity that Atlantic gave us,” Perry said. “I'm very grateful for it because now I'm state certified at the age of 17. I get to go into college with that and I could put that on my resume.”

Students at Mainland, New Smyrna Beach and University High School also trained for and passed the telecommunicators exam. All three schools offer a criminal justice academy or program.

Across the county, every high school offers at least one Career Technical Education (CTE) academy or is adding one for the next school year. All high schools offer CTE classes. According to the county, students have taken and passed more than 8,000 certifications across various fields during the past school year.

Reagan Ryan is a 2023 — 2025 Report for America Corps Member, covering the environment and climate across Central Florida for Spectrum News 13. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.