Dental Careers Program at Tottenville High School Leaves Students Employable After Graduation

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STATEN ISLAND, NY – Students are graduating with more dental knowledge than ever before, thanks to the Dental Practice Careers Program taught by Gail Battista at Tottenville High School.

The highly competitive program that leaves students employable at the end of their high school career takes 84 students per year. The program is a three-year sequence that allows students to acquire techniques and skills in dental assisting. It is Staten Island’s only Dental Office Careers program and NYSED CTE Approved by its efforts.

Dental Office Careers Program Supervisor Gail Battista is shown April 4, 2022. (Staten Island Advance/Jan Somma-Hammel)

During their time in class, students learn how to make prosthetics such as crowns and invisible retainers; radiology and basic restorative and specialized procedures. Many students gain first-hand experience and receive working papers, making them eligible for internships in dental labs and offices, working side-by-side with dentists.

However, the student curriculum goes far beyond dentistry. Battista ensures that his students leave with real-world expertise, such as professionalism, communication skills, and assertiveness. The class also makes annual trips to the Greater New York Dental Convention, NYU College of Dentistry, and NYC College of Technology to see current and future dentists in action.

Dental Office Careers Program at Tottenville High

Emily Pollio and Ruhshona Salimova fabricate temporary crowns and a custom mouth tray on April 4, 2022. (Staten Island Advance/Jan Somma-Hammel)

Gail Battista’s wisdom about dentistry is exemplified by the extreme passion and success of her students throughout the program.

Battista has worked in dentistry since the age of 15, when she started as a dental assistant in the practice of Dr Joseph Toia in New Dorp. After graduating from Tottenville in 1986, she attended the NYC College of Technology School of Dental Hygiene, where she also earned her degree in education.

Prior to her time at Tottenville, she began mentoring students while working in dental offices. After learning that her teacher, Judith Lichtenstein, was retiring, Battista stepped in and landed the Dental Practice Career Program position in 2008 at her alma mater.

Dr. Edward Jastremski introduced Battista to the Richmond County Dental Society, where she gained support from Staten Island dental practices. This included Dr. Marc Meiselman, who provides an annual scholarship to some of the program’s graduates through the Second District Dental Society.

Battista paved the way for the program and student success today by maintaining those connections. “Working with my hands has always been therapeutic,” Battista said. “I’ve always felt that dentistry leaves our patients feeling like we’ve improved their health. It’s also an opportunity to build a relationship with your patients, and I enjoy the social aspect of it. There is a sense of accomplishment in promoting healthy, beautiful smiles.

Dental Office Careers Program at Tottenville High

Adriana Monroy and Chris Lazaretos make whitening trays as part of Tottenville High School’s Dental Office Careers Program on April 4, 2022. (Staten Island Advance/Jan Somma-Hammel)

While teaching the program, Battista added a community service element to the program.

Her class makes an annual donation to Operation Smile, a non-governmental organization that works to reduce the occurrence of cleft lip and palate around the world. “I wanted to add a community service component to the program, and I felt it should be directly related to the field of dentistry,” Battista said. “Students raise funds by soliciting donations in class and at school. We have raised up to $1,500 for the program each year. We finance four to six cleft palate operations per year.

Dental Office Careers Program at Tottenville High

These students from the Tottenville High School Dental Program will receive an award this year through the Second District Dental Society. In the photo, from left to right, on April 4, 2022, Samantha Manzi, Yaheia Mussa, Michael Catoggio and Isabella Bollini. (Staten Island Advance/Jan Somma-Hammel)

In addition to working with students in her program, Battista has taken on the role of Job Developer and Employment Specialist for the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). As a program supervisor, Battista helps place employees in programs that parallel their interests.

Maintaining strong relationships with Staten Island dentists, Battista offered SYEP students the opportunity to work one-on-one with professionals. Dr. Valerie Venterina, Dr. Edward Jastremski, Dr. Marc Meiselman, Dr. Michael D’Anna, Dr. David Flynn, Dr. Lisa Lazzara, Dr. Fred Hecht, Dr. Christopher Rossi, Dr. Joseph Merola, Dr. Ho Yin, Dr. Salvatore Indelicato and Dr. Michael Donato are all supporters of SYEP and the dental practice careers program, and have student interns and work on-site in their offices.

Battista encourages his students to pursue their enthusiasm for dentistry outside of the classroom.

Leading by example, Battista brought home her passion for dentistry, passing it on to her daughter Sandra – who now attends NYU Dental School and plans to one day open a practice. Inspired, the students started the first dental club at Tottenville High School four years ago, sparking the pursuit of the club at many colleges and universities.

Program graduates have gone on to attend renowned schools such as Stony Brook Dental School, Tufts University Dental School, NYU Dental School, UNDMJ Dental School, Nova Dental School (Florida), New Haven Dental Hygiene School, City Tech Dental Hygiene School, School NYU Dental Hygiene, Middlesex County College School of Hygiene, and Eastern International College School of Dental Hygiene.

For more information, email Battista at [email protected] or call (917) 670–1905.

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