Lake Highlands High School has a program which is popular with students but little-known to the community – the Criminal Justice Education Center. Led by Dimitra Simme, a delightfully animated and personable teacher despite her past as a hard-nosed probation officer, the program began in 2008 with 42 students and received 260 applications for next year.

All Richardson ISD high schools offer Career and Technology Education (CATE) programs, but only LHHS offers the criminal justice courses, which prepare students for work as emergency dispatchers, detention officers, security guards, and many other forms of gainful employment on the path to becoming tax-paying citizens and productive adults.

Ms. Simme offered a tour of the center to participants in Inside RISD, a program to educate members of the community about the ins and outs of the school district. We got to see their 911 dispatch simulation set-up, where half the students pretend to be callers in an emergency and the other half sharpen their dispatcher skills, using high tech map screens and information prompts. Do you need an ambulance? Is the intruder still in the house? Is the injured person breathing? The kids learn to gather critical information using information gathering grids and learn to make life-and-death decisions in a chaotic environment. The caller even has the option of adding background noises, like a crying baby or people fighting. It’s very realistic, and it prepares the students to pass an exam and receive the certification needed to get a job after graduation. Work study programs and internships are also offered. Kudos to the RISD for making these programs available.