Sometimes all it takes is a chance meeting, a question asked aloud that you never had the courage to ask yourself.
For Jackie Valadez, a dental hygienist, her flexible schedule gave her weekly days off, which she utilized in an unconventional way. It turns out the days she spent volunteering in her mother’s fourth-grade classroom was preparation for a new career.
“When that chance meeting happened and I was asked, ‘Have you ever thought about teaching?’ I thought this is it. I’ve just been waiting for someone to ask me this question,’ ” Valadez says.
Although Valadez would describe her new career as the teacher of Southwest High School’s dental assisting program as merely a well-timed opportunity, her passion and unwavering dedication reveals she has come full circle from an uncertain high school student to a respected professional leading others to their full potential.
Spiritually Supported, Professionally Guided
It wasn’t too long ago that Valadez was a cheerleader at Brawley Union High School, chanting with the crowd at football games. As the “commissioner of spirit,” the teenager bled blue and gold and gave little thought to going to college.
“My mom is a teacher, so I knew it was always important to be able to take care of yourself and be self-sufficient,” Valadez says. “But I wasn’t on the path to going to a university.”
Interestingly, she always loved going to, of all places, the orthodontist’s office. She decided dental hygiene would be her chosen profession.
“I love dental hygiene,” she says with a smile. “I love being a healthcare provider and taking care of people.”
A series of part-time jobs in dental offices led Valadez to fulfilling her professional dreams. In 1994, she was hired by Dr. Richard Barsan, which sparked the beginning of an ongoing mentorship.
“He supported me by working around my hours and letting me learn everything,” Valadez recalls.
Valadez began to improve her grades at Imperial Valley College and set her sights on transferring to Loma Linda University, one of a handful of schools in California that offers a degree in dental hygiene.
“I was a fish out of water. I was from the Valley, I was a minority and not Seventh-day Adventist,” she says of her time at the university. “But it fed me spiritually. I found a new family there; the program had a positive message.”
Personal trials and triumph
During her time at Loma Linda, she phoned her mother every day for support. Her high school sweetheart Isaac drove up for events on the weekends.
Enduring a few years of a long-distance relationship, the couple married in Brawley after Valadez graduated from Loma Linda and started her new career as a dental hygienist. A few years later, the couple moved to San Marcos and enjoyed the southern California lifestyle, going out to eat, to the beach and driving their convertible Ford Mustang with the top down.
Valadez said they had freedom but didn’t know many people in the area. When the couple discovered they were expecting, they quickly made plans to move back to the Valley.
“There really is no place like home,” she adds.
Tragedy struck a month later when Valadez miscarried. A few months after that, hope was renewed when Valadez became pregnant again until a second miscarriage left the couple devastated.