Dylin Jackson and Makai DeBarry practice CPR on a mannequin together. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Two dozen eighth graders took turns doing compressions on inflatable torsos on a chilly Tuesday morning at Straub Middle School.

 “How do we make sure gam gam is okay?” a Salem Fire Department firefighter asked the classroom.

“Shake and shout,” the kids replied.

Dylin Jackson and Makai DeBarry worked together, one doing chest compressions while the other hooked up an AED to the chest of the plastic doll.

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The CPR classes are part of a Salem Fire Foundation initiative to teach all area eighth graders CPR.

The program has taught 15,000 kids since 2015, according to Salem Fire Department Fire Chief Mike Niblock.

Jenni Sherwood, an eighth-grade health teacher, said the CPR course is a three-day unit that the students prepare for. Even before that, the kids learn CPR in their seventh-grade health classes.

“They can just get behind a mannequin and get right to work,” Sherwood said.

Middle school students practice CPR on inflatable torsos. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Sherwood said it teaches the kids a skill while also showing them technical education as a career option. A firefighter told the kids that with a two-year degree they could be making $80,000 a year with the fire service.

By comparison, Sherwood told the class, a teacher makes between $40,000 to $45,000 a year with five years of schooling and a master’s degree.

If the Straub students want to go on to a career in firefighting, they’re in the right place.

West Salem High School has a Career Technical Education program in fire science that allows the students to graduate with their EMT basic certification.

Sherwood said the students take the CPR classes seriously.

Two years ago, seventh grader Joseph Illingworth coached his mom through CPR after his father collapsed on the floor. It was a skill he had learned weeks earlier, allowing him to help save his dad’s life.

“The idea is that in an emergency situation where they would have to apply it, they would take over,” she said. 

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, saphara@salemreporter.com or @daisysaphara.