ALAMOSA — “I loved the program so much. I found my niche,” said 21-year-old Beatriz Moreno. “My senior year in high school didn’t go too well and after one semester at a four-year school, I realized it wasn’t for me.”
During that time, she felt pressured to decide quickly what she was going to do with the rest of her life. It was stressful. She had taken many of her general education courses from Trinidad State while still attending Alamosa High School. Her intention was to be a teacher. She majored in English and minored in Spanish but after one semester, she withdrew from college.
A close friend, who was studying to be a dental assistant in Pueblo, suggested Moreno might want to give that a try. Moreno thought about her childhood, “I always loved going to the dentist,” said Moreno. “I have really pretty teeth. I’ve always had good teeth. The shots didn’t scare me and I got a sticker!”
The more she thought about it, it felt right.
She went online and researched dental assistant programs in Colorado. She was both surprised and delighted to find one in Alamosa where she was born and raised. She called the college to inquire and within three weeks she was happily commuting from home and attending classes with the first group of students in that program at Trinidad State. The program filled quickly and by the end of its first year, the class was already filled for the next year.
“Beatriz has a great attitude. She always came in with a smile,” said instructor and Canada native Sherry Dufoe-Pratzman. “She was always positive and willing to help others. She works well with a team.”
“Sherry was such a good instructor. It was so much fun and I loved all the girls (ten including her) and the personal attention I got from the instructor,” said Moreno. “For people who don’t want to go to college for four years, I think it offers a good alternative because they offer a number of programs that take less time.”
Moreno will be training later this month to substitute in a dental office while the current dental assistant is on maternity leave. She is excited to apply the skills she has learned and hopes that it might lead to full-time employment.
Alexis Quintana, an 18-year-old mother was the youngest in the class. She graduated high school a year early and credits her whole family for being her support system ‘since day one.’ “It is not easy being a single mom,” she said. “My family is my inspiration. They helped me take care of my daughter.”
She continued, “I’ve always wanted to be a dentist. I was in braces. I have always been interested in teeth. I thought this (class) would be a great place to start.”
After she graduated and started working, she moved with her daughter into an apartment in Alamosa. Now 19, she is excited about living on her own. Quintana enjoys her work and her co-workers. She said taking the dental assistant program at Trinidad State and then applying what she learned has strengthened her desire to be a dentist. She said the dentists she assists are encouraging her to “go for it.” She plans to begin taking prerequisites in the spring and wants to attend the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine in Aurora to become a dentist.
About the program at Trinidad State she said, “I loved it. My instructor was the best. She’s just a good person in general.”
“Alexis was mom to a 6-month-old when she started my class,” said Dufoe-Pratzman. “She took on this class full force and learned quickly. She is a sharp-minded woman with the desire to do her very best, always willing to help when needed. She was my first student to secure a job right out of the gate with Valley Wide Health Systems and has been holding her own very well.”
“It’s nine months out of their lives,” she continued. “But it’s something they will always have and there are dentists everywhere. It’s very transient. It’s predominantly female but I’m seeing more males. It’s good employment and decent pay and it opens doors for other opportunities like hygienist or maybe a dentist.”
It allowed Dufoe-Pratzman to travel to Saudi Arabia and work there for five years.
With nearly 18 years of dental assisting in three different countries (Canada, Saudi Arabia, and the US) Dufoe-Pratzman comes to Trinidad State well prepared to teach others the same skills. She is also certified as an esthetician and will be opening her own skin care business, Relax and Glow Esthetics, in Del Norte soon. She really likes working with the public.
This ambitious woman is also working toward her BA in Health Management and eventually she would love to travel abroad to teach English. She believes she is right where she needs to be at this stage of her life’s journey. She is excited about the dental program and was really impressed with all the students - ages 18 to 28.
“The first year was a little bit crazy because I wasn’t sure how to structure the year,” said Dufoe-Pratzman. “Dental has a whole language of its own. I started with microbiology because I really wanted the students to be protected from disease or harm. I used a lot of visual because I’m a visual and hands-on learner.”
She teaches chair side manner, anatomy of the mouth, how to polish teeth and do sealants, take x-rays, take and pour impressions, mix materials and cements, make custom trays for individual patients and more.
“They become a second set of hands for the dentist,” she said. “They learn what is wanted before they are even asked.”
The nine-month program meets for classroom instruction on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Trinidad State from 6–9 p.m. and every other Saturday from 9–5 p.m. for labs in Monte Vista at Dr. Lucero’s office (for years known as Dr. Santi’s office) located north of Chapman Park on the west end of town. The hours allow those working full-time to take the training. The first class graduated last May and her second class of 10 students began August 21.
“It’s the only accredited dental assistant training program in southern Colorado (south of Pueblo),” she explained.
To learn more about the program at Trinidad State, contact Nursing Director LoriRae Hamilton at [email protected] or 719-846-5524.
Caption: Students pay rapt attention as instructor Sherry Dufoe-Pratzman teaches them about the forms they will use to make dental impressions. Pictured (in no particular order) are: Alexa Laird, Cara Taylor, Chenoa Dye, Chirssy Padilla, Jordan Lucero, Kayla Anderson, Leah Aziz, Lorri Valdez, Monica Rivera and Soraya Rogers./Courtesy photo by Margaret Sanderson