Hands-On Experience in Dentistry

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It is all smiles at The Smile Clinic in Alamo, especially on Fridays, as that is the day when Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD high school students visit the office to gain hands-on experience as they pursue their dental assistant certifications.

Under the tutelage of dentist and PSJA alumna Dr. Olga Ruby Salinas, a dozen of PSJA ISD students, who will be graduating from high school this May 2022, receive invaluable work experience and are ready to enter the workforce through the PSJA Career & Technical Education Program’s Health Science Career Pathway in partnership with South Texas College.

As part of the dental assistant certification, they are pursuing, students are currently getting to complete their clinical labs in a real setting at The Smile Clinic.

For Salinas, a PSJA Memorial High School Class of 2008 graduate, opening the doors to her practice to current students is her way of paying it forward.

“This is my way of giving back to the school system that gave me so much,” Salinas said. “I attended PSJA ever since I can remember. It was in third grade that my teacher, Mrs. Warren at Doedyns Elementary, identified me as a gifted and talented student. I always go back to that moment in my life because I believe that if she had not seen what I could offer, I would not be here. I have a lot to thank PSJA for.”

According to Salinas, during her time at PSJA ISD, she earned over 40 college credit hours, completing most of her basic coursework by the time she started at the University of Texas at Brownsville. Like Salinas, more than 3,500 PSJA ISD high school students are enrolled in college courses each semester through the district’s Early College Program.

While she received a great education at PSJA ISD, she remembers being afraid of not being able to afford college.

“We come from families where we are the first-generation to go to school. I knew that going to college was going to require financial help,” Salinas said. “I remember my financial aid advisor working with me to try to find the best opportunities for me to ensure that I kept going to school and that money wasn’t a factor.” 

Despite the challenges, Salinas is grateful for the support she received through her financial aid officer and the PSJA College Transition Program — she was awarded a full-ride scholarship to UTB, which allowed her to graduate without debt. With the head start she received while in high school, she went on to graduate with two bachelor’s degrees, one in biology and the other in secondary education, in 2012, only four years later. In 2016, she graduated as a doctor of dental surgery from the University of Texas School of Dentistry in Houston.

Today, Salinas takes pride in sharing her knowledge with current PSJA ISD students. Through this opportunity, PSJA students practice real skills they will need in the workforce, gain knowledge, and have a mentor they can count on throughout their future dental careers.

“I hope these students walk away with a bigger sense of purpose and a clearer pathway career-wise, so they know what they need to do to get to where they want to be,” she said. “If I can help them by mentoring them and guiding them, then I would be happy knowing I can do that for them.”

For current PSJA Memorial Early College High School senior Deimy Hernandez, one of the students currently completing clinical labs at The Smile Clinic, her dream of working in the dental industry has now come true.

“Ever since I was little, I have always wanted to be a dentist. I’m grateful for the education I’m receiving and the experience here,” said Hernandez, who hopes to use her dental assistant certificate as she continues her post-secondary education once she graduates in May. “As a first-generation student, this will help me help my family. This is a great opportunity for us.”

Humbled for the opportunity to give back and continue partnering with her alma mater, Salinas expressed tremendous gratitude for where it all began.

“Thank you PSJA for the opportunities you provided me and my family, for believing in me and having such great people within the PSJA Family that care. What you do matters,” she said.

PSJA ISD welcomes students living anywhere in the Rio Grande Valley. High school students interested in the PSJA Health Sciences Career Pathway can visit www.psjaisd.us/cteopportunities to learn more.

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