Wendy Foster stood in front of the class Friday, tossing a skull from one hand to the other, occasionally breaking her rhythm by pausing to listen to a question from one of the 10 Skyview students reviewing for an upcoming exam.
Foster’s new Dental Assisting class is one of more than 50 Career and Technical Education courses offered by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District during the 2012-13 school year during the second year of the district’s grant-funded expansion of the program.
Most of the students in Foster’s class were unperturbed by her casual maneuvering of the bones. They sat through her descriptions of blood vessels as she used two fingers to hold the prop up by the eye sockets and gestured just beneath the jaw.
Daniel Baldwin, however, was not calm.
The senior leaned as far back in his chair as possible when Foster walked by, opening and closing the mouth of the skull, asking him to answer questions about common suture lines.
“My mom actually signed me up for this class and then I stayed because it was fun,” he said after class. “It was fun until we started digging in people’s mouths and then I was like, ‘uh, gross.” I didn’t like touching people and I didn’t like people touching me.”
He paused for a moment and then added that he probably wouldn’t be going to medical school.
“She had a real skull in here,” he said. “She didn’t tell me so I was looking at it like ‘this is crazy’ and then we found out ‘oh my goodness’ that’s somebody’s skull.”
He left class and washed his hands twice, he said.
Brittany Hollers wasn’t grossed out at all.
She, and several other students, took turns feeling a spot behind Foster’s jaw when she went over temporomandibular disorders, more commonly known as TMJ or TMD.
“It’s like popping and you can kind of feel her jaw moving,” Hollers said.
The junior’s hands strayed up to her own jaw as she spoke “Mine doesn’t pop.”
Hollers joined the class because she wants to go into a medical field.
Her favorite part of the class so far is the one that caused Baldwin to squirm with discomfort.
“Looking into each other’s mouths, that was lots of fun,” she said. “You got to feel their tongue and up their palate. It was warm. You touch a person’s tongue; it’s like, all squishy.”
Foster laughed at Holler’s enthusiasm.
“The more interest they have the more information and I can slip in there,” she said. “If I tack on the disgusting factor and put in some weird condition or something — oh my goodness.”
Dan Bohrnsen, work experience and work force coordinator for the CTE program, said the classes where designed to appeal to a broad range of students.
“In vocational education there’s the old-school myth that you’re going to go into the workforce right out of high school. Career and tech ed is for everybody. It’s for every high school kind in our system. Every high school kind will be in the workforce,” Bohrnsen said. “It’s about developing career pathways for all students.”
Bohrnsen has tried to achieve that goal by bringing community professionals into the classroom, sometimes utilizing skills teachers already have or hiring people in the workforce.
Foster is a dental hygienist at an office in Soldotna.
She said she’s never taught formally before, however, her students rave about her performance during class.
“I learn so much because she’s always excited,” said senior Krissa Bulin. “She’s the best teacher.”
Skyview also has computer applications, automotive and construction courses, welding, drafting and engineering courses and one focusing on employability skills.
Its selection is based on the results of a survey Bohrnsen and a colleague conducted last year.
“It’s driven by a number of things. It’s the community and what they foresee to be a need in the community. But, it’s also driven by the potential to find someone to teach that class,” he said. “We’re taking the likes and the needs and mashing them together to try and find a career tech class.”
All told, 13 schools in the district offer CTE courses, a number Bohrnsen said he hoped to see expand.
“We’re trying to make it as equitable as possible across the district,” he said.
Another challenge is getting professionals to teach the classes.
“There’s such an exhaustive paperwork trail they have to go through, for not very much money either,” he said. “They’re doing it out of the kindness of their heart.”
Foster, however, is excited about her experience.
“It’s been one of the most fulfilling experiences I have ever had,” she said.
It’s a personal goal for her, she said, to help students understand that they can pursue a career they love.
“You know, I never would have pursued a formal education if I hadn’t had a class like this,” she said. “Some of the kids who are the straight A students they have a stellar future, it’s basically lined up — it’s just a matter of picking what they want to do. I’m targeting the kids that don’t have that, giving them the opportunity to love something and to have a career instead of just always a job.”
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org