EAST CHICAGO — It's a different kind of ABCs for the students to memorize: airway, breathing and circulation.

Those essential steps are used by medical professionals when dealing with a person having difficulty breathing, unconscious, or unresponsive -- when CPR may become necessary.

And it's the cornerstone for students of the Emergency Medical Technician class that Cheryl Garwick teaches at East Chicago Central High School.

The EMT class is a yearlong class; the first-responder class is one semester.

Garwick is in her fourth year teaching at Central. She's taught the courses for 30 years and taught in schools for 20 years.

She said students learn how to do the procedures and how to be safe, just like the adults do.

"We talk about strokes, heart attacks, abdominal pain and trauma. They learn about the hardest part of the job -- which is dealing with death," she said.

As E.C. Central junior Leonardo Granda inflated a pig's lungs using a manual resuscitation bag during class, he said he enjoys learning about emergency medical services and looks forward to working as part of an ambulance crew. He said he intends to major in criminology in college and feels good knowing what to do in a medical emergency.

Senior Claudia Pena, 18, plans to major in nursing at Indiana University Northwest in Gary. Pena has already completed clinical time at Gary Methodist.

"I can't wait to be on the ambulance," she said.

Garwick wants students to be knowledgeable and self-confident.

"I've taught thousands of people in Northwest Indiana. Some of them are in jobs, they're in medical school," she said. 

Central Principal Shaunna Finley and Deborah Kekelik, career and technical director, noted the school doesn't belong to any of the area career centers but offers its own career and technical education classes. 

They said those classes include the health sciences -- including certified nursing assistant, pharmacy technician, project lead the way, graphic design and radio broadcasting. Finley said 707 students are enrolled in CTE classes.

Finley said administrators also instituted a Character Plus program where students focus on different aspects of character each month such as responsibility or trust. Last fall, they instituted the Restorative Justice program, an approach to dealing with conflicts that is not punitive that emphasizes personal accountability and reconciliation.

Finley said they've reduced the number of suspensions and expulsions at the school. Finley said she's also especially proud of the teachers and students because the high school has experienced two years of growth. She said it's been years since the high school has been able to boast that.

The Indiana Department of Education graded the high school a C.

Finley said even though the the state Legislature "held harmless" schools for academic grades for the 2014-15 school year, Central showed growth.

"This is the first time in 10 years that Central has had two positive years of growth," she said. "In the 2013-14 we were a C (2.33) and in 2014-2015 we are a C (2.5). Even with the hold-harmless we grew as a school," she said.

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Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.