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Students get head start on their futures

DUNCAN  When Duncan High School senior Kaitlynn Lang heads off to college next fall, the 18-year-old hopes to already have her license to sell real estate.

By the time Lang's classmate, Rachel Dickens, begins college, the Duncan High senior, who aspires to be a dental hygienist, will already have a year's worth of experience in the day-to-day routines of a working dental practice.

Other classmates of Lang's and Dickens' are getting similar head starts on their futures, thanks to an internship program adopted this year by Duncan High School. By the time she graduates, for example, Peyton Stone, who is interested in veterinary medicine, will already have worked for a year as an intern at the Duncan Veterinary Hospital. Likewise, Kimberly Barger, who hopes to one day be a lawyer, will already have spent lots of time at the Stephens County Courthouse, witnessing in person prosecutors and defense attorneys in action.

"I want to see how things happen and where I might fit in," Barger said. "It's a great opportunity."

Lesa Hefner, who coordinates the Pathways to Future Careers Internship Program at Duncan High, agreed. But it's not just a great opportunity for students to explore in-depth the careers they're interested in. She said local businesses, too, reap benefits. Some, for example, have taken advantage of social media skills brought by students. The Duncan community as a whole stands to benefit, too, by cultivating a strong local work force. 

Hefner said the Duncan Area Economic Development Foundation was an early supporter of the internship program, which opens doors not only for Duncan High seniors but also for juniors who want to get practical experience in the work world. Some 22 businesses have signed on this year to host 47 students, she said. They include the likes of Michel Paint and Body, Halliburton, and Bailes Polk Funeral Home. Duncan Regional Hospital was so enthusiastic that it invited six interns to gain experience at the hospital.

Hefner noted that students who signed up weren't just given internships; they had to apply for them, writing cover letters, preparing and submitting resumes and then sitting for interviews with the employers. On the job, they're not supposed to be treated as students, but rather as employees with responsibilities, both treated and taken seriously.

Duncan dentist Dr. Coty Shores said he knew right away when Hefner called him that he wanted to participate in the program. He was fortunate, he said, that he had a good idea at an early age what he wanted to do, and he had a rare opportunity as an eighth-grader from the little town of Wilson to spend a day observing an orthodontist in action in Ardmore.

"That was pretty special to me because it helped me decide what I wanted to be," he said.

Now, Shores is passing along that opportunity to experience and to learn by doing. He said his intern, Dickens, will get to see not only things like how dental hygienists do their work and how teeth are checked and cavities filled; he'll also teach her about the business side of running a dental office. And he won't sugarcoat any of it. It takes a lot of commitment to education to get to be a dentist or hygienist, and a lot of work to succeed.

"It takes a lot of determination to really push through and do it," he said.

Dickens said she feels fortunate to be able to spend several hours a day twice a week at Shores' office. She dresses in scrubs for work and wears a mask while observing the doctor doing dental procedures. She said seeing her first tooth extraction was a little unsettling, but still "pretty cool" to watch. She's excited at prospects of observing even more complex extraction and implant procedures that will take entire days to complete.

"It's making me even more interested," she said of her experiences so far at Shores' practice.

The Lawton Constitution

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