Senior Partners with Local Healthcare Professional

Oak Grove Students Try Out Careers for Credit

Oak Grove High School senior Emily Meidinger has always been interested in healthcare. Both of her parents work in the medical field, and she likes helping people. But for a long time, she wasn’t sure which specific area to pursue.

Then, in 10th grade, Emily’s dentist found a cavity in one of her teeth. As she described how she was going to fill the cavity, Emily got really curious.

“I’d never had to have anything done to my teeth,” said Emily, now a senior. “I just wanted to know what was happening.”

Emily’s dentist, Dr. Stephanie Gruchalla, a parent of two Oak Grove students, was happy to explain it all.

That conversation led to Emily shadowing Gruchalla in the summer and now doing a semester-long cooperative work experience at Gruchalla’s office.

Twice a week, Emily dons a dental office coat, goggles and a mask, and observes Gruchalla as she treats patients—including Oak Grove president Bob Otterson, who recently went in for a filling! Emily also has been learning skills, such as how to clean and set up rooms, and sterilize equipment. Sometimes Gruchalla sends Emily out to visit other dental-related offices.

“I feel like I’m learning so much about dentistry but also for my life too,” Emily said. She described how conversations with Gruchalla have helped her prepare for university and dental school, and given her insights into different ways workplaces function.

That is the goal of the program, said Lynsey Rittenbach, Oak Grove special services teacher. Students gain an understanding of a profession and also learn about workplace culture, communication, responsibility and more. In the process, they earn course credit for up to two semester-long experiences.

“They get to experience the career and hopefully solidify what they want to do,” Rittenbach said. Of course, she adds, sometimes students realize the field they chose is not what they want to do. “That’s equally helpful,” she said.

Cooperative work experiences are one way Oak Grove students meet North Dakota’s goal of ensuring every student is prepared for graduation, whether they are headed for post-secondary education, the workforce or military service.

Over the past several years, Oak Grove students have had cooperative work experiences in the areas of medicine, the electrical trade, law enforcement, construction, administrative work, engineering, used car sales, real estate and shelf stocking, among others. Between five and 10 students participate each semester, keeping a weekly log of their experiences. At the end of the semester, they do a presentation, and create a resume and cover letter relevant to the work they observed.

As a mentor in the program, Gruchalla said she’s enjoyed explaining her work to a young person who is interested in the field. Emily is the third Oak Grove student she has hosted at her office.

“It’s beneficial to the dental community to have good people following in our footsteps. People need to observe,” she said. “Emily’s learning, ‘Is this right for me?’”

These experiences also help the community in general, said Aimee Zachrison, Oak Grove academic dean, because students learn about interesting jobs and careers that are available locally.

“It’s a win win win win situation,” Zachrison said. “Kids see what’s available in the community and what’s happening in the community, and the community gets the benefit of working with kids.”

If you are interested in offering a cooperative work experience to an Oak Grove student, please get in touch with Lynsey Rittenbach at Oak Grove Lutheran School.

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