When she was 12 years old, Sekhiah Israel-Rice’s dad unexpectedly passed away, leaving her mother to raise 10 children completely on her own.
Sekhiah’s parents had been together since high school, and the sudden death sent her heartbroken mother scrambling to simply raise enough money to bury her husband.
“But, she kept pushing,” Sekhiah said. “She got what she needed for the funeral, and then she went to school for nursing. I’m so proud of her. Even from elementary through middle and high school, I couldn’t fathom how she could take care of 10 kids, feed them, keep a roof over our heads and the electricity on.”
Sekhiah’s admiration for her mother was reinforced when, at the age of 20, Sekhiah became a mother of her own. Until that day, she felt her life had lacked direction and purpose, but the birth of her son forced her to focus and motivated her to make a change.
“When I gave birth, reality hit me,” she said. “I had to go hard for him. I wanted a better life for him. I had to do something with my life so that he can look at me as inspiration. Like my mom – she’s the best, and even through hardships, she followed through on what she had to do. For me at that moment, that was supporting my son.”
An interest in the dental field and some online research led to her Florida Career College (FCC) in Jacksonville. Sekhiah visited the campus and quickly determined the school was going to be the right fit for her and her goals.
She enrolled in the Jacksonville Dental Assistant Program and started classes early this year.
“When I came into the building (at FCC), from the start I knew I wanted to be there,” Sekhiah. “The staff was just so welcoming with open arms and smiles. I didn’t feel like I was being judged. They were very supportive and said they would always be there to assist me. That’s the type of motivation I need in my life to keep going, and I appreciate that.”
Striving to Find Her Passion
Sekhiah graduated from high school in 2018 thinking that her next step would be culinary school. It was something she was good at, and while the culinary arts didn’t completely excite her, she wasn’t sure what else to do.
“I knew in my heart that’s not what I wanted to do, but I was a people pleaser,” she said. “People would say, ‘You’re so good at cooking!’ so I thought about going that direction for a while. But, I waited it out.”
She also thought about going into teaching, but again, it didn’t arouse the level of passion she was looking for. So, rather than going to school, she simply just worked a series of jobs while dreaming of one day having a career in … well … something.
But then, Sekhiah found out she was pregnant.
“I was so excited, but I was worried because being a young mother has this stigma,” she said. “We’re labeled as being unmotivated and incompetent. I know I had to do anything I could to support him, and that made me really focus. I didn’t want to be in my 40s and 50s working day-to-day jobs. I wanted a career.”
She heard about the dental assistant program at FCC. Like her mother’s nursing career, it was an option that would allow her to help people while learning more about the teeth and oral health, which have often fascinated her.
“I had so many questions, and what a better way to be in the field and know all the information and help other people with their oral hygiene?” Sekhiah said. “Then, I can pass good oral hygiene habits to my kids, as well.”
Establishing a Bright Future
Since starting the program at FCC, Sekhiah said one of the biggest things she’s learned is that in a dental clinic, dental assistants serve as the backbone of organization, helping keep dentists on track and prepared to treat each and every patient.
And, she appreciates the way FCC is preparing her for this career, both in the classroom and especially in the lab.
“I love it as a program” she said. “Being able to do hands-on in the lab takes it to another level. I’m not sitting in the classroom just listening to lectures all day. I’m making crowns and bridges, doing X-rays … and learning from my awesome instructor.”
That instructor is LeAndre DeBose, a mentor who Sekhiah said has taken her under his wing since day one of the program, when she felt most overwhelmed.
“I was scared and frustrated to the point I actually cried,” she said. “He pulled me aside and assured me we’re all on the same page and that everything I don’t know, we’ll get to that point in class. He’s just amazing at teaching and showing us the best ways to be a great dental assistant to the dentist. What he’s teaching me, I’m taking it all in.”
“It is a pleasure to Sekhiah in class! She is very inquisitive and always asking questions and wanting to learn more then what is expected. I can tell she loves dentistry and will do well in this career,” LeAndre said. “She is always willing to assist others in class. Her positive attitude and smile are contagious.”
Sekhiah still has a couple of months to go before she begins her externship, but she’s eager to get started developing real-world experience and beginning her new career. Once in the field, she looks forward to working while continuing her education, perhaps becoming a dental hygienist or, down the road, even a Dental Assistant instructor.
Until then, Sekhiah continues to share her accomplishments with her mom. She uses a combination of her mom’s support, her dad’s memory, and her son’s future to motivate her to work hard and to always put her best foot forward.
“I am very pleased to have Sekhiah as a work-study student here on campus. She is very efficient and always on time. She has a great sense of humor and outgoing personality,” said Bonnie McMurphey, Registrar for FCC Jacksonville. “Her passion of FCC has inspired two other family members to enroll as well.”
“I’m just ready for a new chapter in my life, and I really needed this change,” Sekhiah said. “I want my son to know he’s in control of his future, and I’m here to guide him along the way.”