ANDERSON – Anderson High School senior Cassady McCord carefully pulled the dental dam over the simulated mouth in an effort to isolate a tooth as other students cleaned instruments and practiced taking blood pressure at other stations.
She knows the free education she is receiving at Anderson Community Schools’ D26 Career Center normally would take 16 months and cost $35,000.
“I was glad it gave me more to go into college, and I’d be advanced,” she said.
McCord is one of 11 juniors and seniors working toward one of several dental career pathways from dental hygienist to dentist.
D26 director Kelly Durr said as with many of the programs offered at D26, students can graduate and move straight into a good-paying job, starting as high as $35,000 a year.
“It’s just another avenue for them to be prepared for life after high school,” she said.
In order to accommodate the program, Durr said, a wall separating two smaller classrooms was cut down to make one larger classroom that could house the equipment, including an examination chair. In addition, the classroom contains authentic equipment acquired through grants and donations.
“It’s a true experience. They’re working on real equipment, having a real experience,” she said.
In addition to their classroom lessons, Durr said, students also will be able to gain real-world experience at the Jane Pauley Center on the other side of the wall.
“When the kids are able to be busy with their hands, it makes all the difference in the world,” she said.
Though the class currently takes place only in the morning, Durr said she hopes it will continue to grow.
“Next year, we hope it will grow enough so she’ll have a morning and afternoon class,” she said.
Instructor Wendy Bailey has 30 years’ experience in the field as a dental assistant with the expanded duty of tooth restoration. She also has taught at three colleges.
“This class is foundational if you want to be a dentist, an assistant or even do lab work,” she said.
The dental careers class prepares the students for the infection control part of the three-part national boards for dental assistants. The class covers nine specialties with an emphasis on public health, and the students must master 150 competencies, from hand washing to root canals.
“I won’t get to all of them, but I will do as many as I can,” she said. “It’s pretty labor-intensive, so I can’t prepare them for all three parts of the exam.”
Bailey teaches the class through a combination of lectures, games such as instrument bingo and hands-on use of equipment.
“I do a lot of work stations. That way, the students get a lot of practice,” she said. “I love to create curriculum, so I do a lot of worksheets myself.”
The class also features special visitors, including local dentist Dr. R. Todd DeHaven, who came in to watch individual students for 10 minutes each as they transferred instruments.
Bailey said she doesn’t expect each of the students to enter a dental career after their experience in the class. For some, she said, it will prevent an expensive mistake.
“You can take it and see, ‘Do I want to do this?’” she said.