DICKINSON, N.D. — As part of its new academy model, students at Dickinson High School can now become certified dental assistants or firefighters.

The school’s administrators were hard at work planning for the beginning of the implementation of the academy model this school year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Suddenly, they had a change of priority: preparing the school’s staff and students for full-time online learning, followed by hybrid learning this fall.

Despite this, the school still introduced the freshman academy this fall and plans to roll out the academies to the rest of the school in the 2021-22 school year as planned.

The administration isn’t sitting on programs until then, however. It introduced a dental assistant program in the fall and will introduce a firefighter program this spring.

The school is using curriculum from the Dental Assisting National Board, or DANB, for its two-year dental assistant program so that students who complete the programming can earn DANB’s Entry Level Dental Assistant certification by the time they turn 18 years old.

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“We are the first ones in the nation to have a dental assistant program for certification through DANB,” Dickinson High School Principal Kevin Hoherz said.

Three students are in the program this year.

“We only wanted a small portion because each one has to go to a dentist in town and do that internship … The dentists that would do it, they would only take one, and we didn’t want to overwhelm them,” Hoherz said.

Kevin Hoherz, principal of Dickinson High School, addresses the school board in this 2019 file photo. (Kayla Henson / The Dickinson Press)
Kevin Hoherz, principal of Dickinson High School, addresses the school board in this 2019 file photo. (Kayla Henson / The Dickinson Press)

Dr. Maria “Duffy” Meyer of High Plains Dental helped get the program off the ground, recruiting two other area dentists, Dr. Shannon Galster of Dickinson Dental Center and Dr. Samuel Sticka at Sticka Dental Clinic, to take students on as interns.

The school is also offering an online program through the Dickinson Fire Department to help students become Firefighter I certified. In the program, students will spend three hours each week with local firefighters for hands-on training.

Hoherz said there are no costs for students to take the courses at this time. Students will receive elective credits for both programs.

Both programs are only offered to juniors and seniors, as most clinical work requires the student to be 16 years of age or older.

Both programs will help meet needs in the community as well as help prepare students for their future careers.

Bobbie Johnson, a teacher at the high school, works with students in the dental assisting program.

“Right now, there is a shortage of them (dental assistants), and it’s especially on our side of the state. It tends to be where the students that graduate from Wahpeton, they stay on the east side of the state," Johnson said. "We really don’t have any schools out here that train for dental assisting or dental hygiene, and North Dakota doesn’t have a dental school, so they have to go out of state to become dentists.”