Pictured from left: Julissa Ramirez; Iyonna Card; Aleah Park; Jennifer Free, CTE/Heath Science Teacher; Analicia Enriquez; Jennifer “Princess” Perez and Natalie Olivares PHOTO BY: ANDY ADAMS/Lufkin ISD


Six senior girls, all with a passion to learn new things, are leading the way in a pilot dental assisting program at Lufkin High School.

“We’re making history,” Iyonna Card said.

All six students and their CTE/Heath Science teacher, Jennifer Free, passed the exam to become certified dental assistants, which for several of the girls is just the beginning to a lifelong career in dentistry.

“The program is a full year, step-by-step process with curriculum,” Free said. ”It’s not a requirement, but these students completed a minimum of 20 hours in a clinic setting, shadowing and sometimes assisting. They helped with sterilization, set up trays, prepped and cleaned the room, prepped patients for x-rays, kept instruments clean and watched procedures.

To be able to complete clinicals the following dentist practices were supportive and involved in the process: Jordan Family Dentistry, Speaker Orthodontics and Hollywood Dental.

Meet the students

Iyonna Card is attending Texas State University in the fall and will be on the cheer team. Her major is biology, and she wants to become an orthodontist. Her favorite part of the program: “Clinicals — because it was cool to go and see what actually happens. It’s different seeing it in real life.” Her most challenging part of the program: “I don’t like paperwork — the assignments!”

Aleah Park wants to be a dental assistant and eventually move on to pediatric dentistry. Her favorite part of the program: “Connecting with patients and staff through the clinicals. Learning from someone who experiences it every day.” Her most challenging part of the program: “Being focused as a senior!”

Analicia Enriquez will be attending Texas State University in the fall and take business classes. Her favorite part of the program: “Getting our CPR certification and the clinicals. It was hands on and gave us a taste of what it’s going to be like in the office.” Her most challenging part of the program: “Learning about radiology. Understanding it because the packets were complicated. It was very difficult.”

Jennifer “Princess” Perez has been offered a position as a dental assistant at Dr. Speaker’s orthodontics office and will take online courses at Tyler Junior College majoring in biology to become an orthodontist. Her favorite part of the program: “Going to clinicals. I like how Dr. Speaker showed us hands-on experiences. He had a model of teeth, and we would put the rubber bands on it. He also let me get comfortable with the tools.” Her most challenging part of the program: “Radiology!”

Julissa Ramirez will be attending Stephen F. Austin State University with a pre-dental major focusing on becoming a dentist. Her favorite part of the program: “If it wasn’t for clinicals, we wouldn’t know exactly what a dental assistant does, their duties. We gained hands-on experience. Whenever we do find jobs, we have an idea of what we have to do.” Her most challenging part of the program: “Preparing for the test!”

Natalie Olivares will be attending Angelina College in the fall and then off to Houston for dental hygienist school. Her favorite part of the program: “Clinicals. We experienced what we’re going to get to do. We got to see an extraction. At first I was like “Whoa” and then I thought ‘that was cool!’” Her most challenging part of the program: “Keeping up with the assignments while working at the Spud 2!”

The test, the process

As dental assistants, the students will receive patients, take the patient history, set up trays, take vital signs and prepare the rooms for the dentist. The students had to take a course on human trafficking and become CPR certified. They received a certification in Nitrous Oxide so they can monitor patients. The exam was a four-hour test that when finished immediately tells your score. All six students and their teacher passed the exam. After the exam is complete, there is a background check, application fee, photo, notarization, show completion of the course and then after three to four weeks, the students became certified dental assistants.

“We’re all in this together,” said Free. “We do this together – we succeed or fail together. The community support made the difference in giving the students hands-on experience.

“Dr. Speaker especially is very much about educating. He wants to come to the high school on Fridays to teach and share his knowledge and passion for dentistry.”

“We are excited to offer another exceptional learning opportunity for our students at Lufkin High School,” Dr. Emmons, LHS principal said. “The dental assistant program holds great promise for empowering our students in meeting the rising demand for oral healthcare professionals. By providing comprehensive training, practical experiences, and career opportunities, this program will help shape the future of oral healthcare and improve the overall well-being of our community.”

Now this group of students who have pioneered the dental assistant program at Lufkin High School can look forward to using their skills for a meaningful career. Congratulations!