Practical experience High school internship sharpens student’s college focus

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AUBURN – Instead of sitting in a high school class last Wednesday, Jenna Wing was in a dentist’s office wearing a face mask and gloves, her suction hose at the ready.

Wing, 17, was helping Dr. Scott Bernardy as he injected a shot into a patient’s gum. Since September, the Poland Regional High School senior has participated in the school’s internship program. It is one of only two such programs in the state.

Wing has received class credit for helping the Auburn dentist with root canals, fillings and extractions. And she’s gotten a jump on what she thinks will be her career.

She plans to attend the University of New England in the fall, majoring in dental hygiene. “I may possibly go on to become a dentist,” she said.

The internship has led to a summer job at Riverview Dental Associates, where she now helps Bernardy.

Only one other high school in Maine, Mount Abram in Topsham, has an intern program similar to Poland’s, said Duke Albanese, who leads the Great Maine High School reform program at the Mitchell Institute.

He said a movement was under way to establish more high school intern programs, which can inspire high-schoolers to go to college or help them decide what to study when they get there.

Internships also can help prepare students for higher education, he said.

“We’re worried that the senior year in too many places is not rigorous enough for the next step, college,” Albanese said.

Poland’s intern program is in its third year and is still small. Only 23 of 129 seniors participated, according to the program’s coordinator, Mike McClellan. The school is hoping to expand it.

“Our goal is to help kids discover their own talents. Internships is one way to do it,” said Principal Bill Doughty. Students, matched to their interests, have interned at real estate agencies, an animal shelter and restaurants, among other businesses.

Bernardy said more high schools should offer internships because they can help students determine what they want to do – or don’t want to do.

He never worked in a dentist’s office until college, he said.

“It’s amazing how many dentists in my dental school program never spent any time in a dental office before committing four years and thousands of dollars to a career they weren’t sure was a good fit,” Bernardy said.

Wing, who turns 18 this week, said she’s learned a lot working at the dentist’s office. If it weren’t for her internship, she’d probably be in an elective class doing something like clay making, she said. “This is more interesting.”

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