Preparing Students for both College and the Workplace through Career and Technical Education – The Oral Health Academy at A. Phillip Randolph Career and Technical High School

Posted by on August 31, 2017

An interview by Caitlin Fritz

Career and Technical Education (CTE) prepares students for careers by introducing them to workplace competencies and makes academic learning relevant to students by providing professionally relevant and complex content. With many careers in today’s workplace requiring post-secondary education, the focus now for CTE is on both career and college readiness. As the Pennsylvania Department of Education states, “CTE is no longer an either/or choice, but a BOTH/AND opportunity for students.” One way to make this connection to higher education is through partnerships with colleges and universities. I was able to interview Dr. Beverley Crawford, DDS, Associate Professor of Clinical Dentistry and Director of Diversity and Inclusion for Penn Dental Medicine, and Charlene A. Fenster, BSDH, MA, PHDHP, Dental Assisting Instructor at A. Phillip Randolph CTE High School, near East Falls in Philadelphia. Ms. Fenster is also an alumna of the now former dental hygiene program at Penn Dental Medicine and a 2017 Lindback Award recipient for excellence in teaching.

Caitlin: How did the partnership between Penn Dental and Randolph High School begin?

Ms. Fenster: While attending a Penn Dental Medicine Alumni Society Executive Board meeting, now Dean Emeritus Dr. D. Walter Cohen, introduced me to Dr. Crawford, recently appointed as the Director of Diversity at the dental school. As we exchanged business cards, we discussed how Penn Dental could potentially support both the personal and professional development of the students and the oral health program at Randolph.

Dr. Crawford: I was excited about the potential for this collaboration, and the possibility to provide opportunities to underrepresented minority students for careers in dentistry. In the beginning, our partnership was supported by the dedication of a student, now a doctor, Rayna Strong, who helped to establish some of the programs in the partnership through her Community Oral Health Honors project. She worked on setting up shadowing days and opening up career workshops on dentistry careers for Randolph students. Working with the Randolph students has now become an institutionalized part of the honors program. Each year new Penn students bring something new to the program. Connecting with the honors program allowed us a way to sustain the partnership.

Caitlin: What other opportunities developed from this partnership?

Dr. Crawford: There are many opportunities for Randolph students to take hands-on courses at Penn. For example, seniors at Randolph can take a radiology course, co-developed by Ms. Fenster and Dr. Mel Mupparapu, Professor of Oral Medicine and Director of the Division of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology.

Ms. Fenster: This course allows students to use state of the art equipment at Penn Dental and receive mentoring from Penn Dental students and faculty. The course is also extremely valuable in helping the senior students earn their Pennsylvania Dental X-Ray License. Juniors at Randolph also take a course at Penn, learning various lab techniques with Penn Dental students. Dr. Crawford has been instrumental in connecting our students to additional opportunities such as the Summer Mentorship Program from the Provost’s office and research experiences for our students. She has also helped to obtain lab supplies for use in our classroom.

Caitlin: What have been some of your biggest successes?

Ms. Fenster: Working alongside dental students and Penn faculty has been an empowering experience for my students. One hundred percent of the Radiation Health and Safety Examination testers have passed, earning their dental x-ray licenses. For many of the students, college affordability can be a huge barrier, but we discuss how earning the dental x-ray license facilitates earning a decent income while attending college.

The program seems to be working. Randolph’s Oral Health program has a 100% high school graduation rate and 98% of these students go on to attend college. In addition to Penn Dental, thanks to the efforts of Ms. Fenster and Dr. D. Walter Cohen, Randolph CTE School also has partnership with Haverford College and Thomas Jefferson (formerly Philadelphia) University.

Pennsylvania Department of Education – Career and Technical Education

Last spring I was able to visit Randolph and observe one of Ms. Fenster’s 10th grade classes. The students were studying the anatomy and structures of the mouth both inside and out, and how to properly use the chair to ensure comfort for the patient. The students were also practicing the use of the mirror for the proper reflection of light and for indirect vision of hard-to-see areas. 

The students attain competency through real world experiences, gaining respect not only for the patient-doctor relationship, but also for themselves as professional team members. The students evaluate themselves and their partners before moving onto the final competency exam with Ms. Fenster. She has high expectations of the students and the students quickly learn how to hold themselves accountable.

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