Learning How to Succeed: Despite Learning Disabilities, Mendoza Sisters Find Carrington’s Supportive Environment Encourages Success

Learning and supporting each other is in the family genes of Jackie and Bridgett Mendoza.  Their Mexican-born parents created and raised a very “tight” family. Their whole family – mother, father, a brother and a baby sister – all moved to Portland together from Prescott, Arizona in 2020. Jackie, the oldest at 25, and a mother of three boys under the age of four (including a set of twins), spearheaded the move to Oregon in the family tradition of being together for each other.  She tried to transfer her cosmology license from Arizona to Oregon, but it was not possible. When they moved, Bridgett was in her last year of high school, and with COVID’s interruptions only had one month in class with others. It was a challenging time and Bridgett suffered from anxiety over a lot of things as well; she was used to being alone, not socializing so much.   Jackie had an idea to get them both situated with a promising future in their new Portland home:  what if they attended a training college together so they could support each other. Besides Bridgett’s anxiety, Jackie worked with her own dyslexia to overcome challenges in studying. She believed Bridgett would be great at anything she tried, and was confident they could make it through the program if they did it together. They only needed to choose a career. This is their story.   

So how did you choose the Dental Assisting program?

Jackie: We’ve always had pretty nice smiles, we both enjoy talking to people, and we have great communication and customer service skills. I felt like I could do it and even though Bridgett hadn’t thought about it much I convinced her to come to the open house at Carrington.   Bridgett: I found everyone super welcoming. I have anxiety about a lot of things and wasn’t so sure. Jackie was trying to be supportive – and convinced me she thought I could do it.   Jackie: I knew Bridgett would be great at anything she put her mind to. And Abby, the admissions person, was super helpful and took care of Bridgett’s concerns too; things like it was not a big campus, she could just get a feel for it. So, we agreed to try it out!   

Bridgett, once you got there and got into it, was there anything in particular that made you realize, I can do this?

Bridgett: I think it was the hands-on learning that turned the corner. Once I got into school and had the opportunity to do it, it felt nice to learn something new and find that I was good at it. That’s when I knew I could do this.    

So vocational school isn’t all about studying, it’s about “doing” as well? Hands-on learning helps make sense of the studying.

Jackie: Yes. We also had instructors that did it two different ways, so we could learn both of their techniques and figure out our own along the way.   Bridgett: That was very encouraging to me: you saw how passionate each instructor was in their own way, which encouraged you to perfect your own technique and then you found your own individual passion for it and the will to do it.    

Bridgett, so I understand you have experienced anxiety on a regular basis. Did you ever feel like you couldn’t reach out for help sometimes?

Bridgett: Yes, in the past. I felt like I didn’t really have a lot of people who understood me when I was growing up, so it kind of shielded me from asking things. It was more like, if you understand then I’ll try to reach out, but it was always really hard. People with anxiety are good at hiding it.  

But it sounds like the Carrington environment is very supportive of people who are anxious about being there.

Bridgett: Yes, even better than that. It’s a comfortable place if you have anxiety; you can learn how to ask and reach out even if you don’t always feel like it.    

I understand you both were really great students, with a 3.5 GPA or greater.  How did the way you studied together help you make such good grades?

Jackie: Bridgett and I are semi-dyslexic. We were always provided study guides and worksheets which were the most helpful.  Rochelle, one of our instructors, would also be very specific about exactly what we needed to study for tests. Bridgett and I worked together using whiteboards. I like them a lot!  We’d add each of our own knowledge onto the whiteboard. That shared information written out helped us understand the subject better.    

I’ve also been told you both have excelled in leadership in your student community. Can you elaborate on that?

Bridgett: Well, you heard Jackie loves to use those whiteboards all the time, so we would reach out to other classmates to join us, especially ones that were struggling, and combine all our knowledge to learn together.  Since they were such small classes, like five or six of us, sometimes we got the whole class to study with us.   

You two clearly have great energy together! I bet that was really helpful to other students.

Jackie: We love to learn but it’s hard to learn if you’re dyslexic or have anxiety; it’s hard for us to learn the way others do. So we motivated each other to figure it out. It’s also hard to learn the ways others learn even when they have similar issues – but by working together as a group you help everyone figure it out for themselves.    

Now that you’re working in jobs as Dental Assistants, do either of you have goals beyond working as a Dental Assistant?

Bridgett: I want to look into becoming a Hygienist.   Jackie: I really enjoy working right now for a very well-known pediatric dentist. I’m learning a whole lot, so I’m learning as much as can from her right now and I would like to try to become a pediatric dentist at some point.     

What would you like to say to other potential students about your experience going to school together at Carrington?

Jackie: If you feel like you can do it, you most likely can. There are no limitations. If you set up limits, then you’ll stop at those limits. But if you set up a goal you won’t stop at those limits and you’ll keep going. Don’t be scared. By the end you have a great feeling, like, I’m doing it!!   Bridgett: There’s always a helping hand. Even with someone like me with anxiety, there’s always someone who understands and is going to help you. And you’re most likely never alone in the way you feel.   Jackie: And everyone at Carrington was so amazing, so helpful, constantly checking in to make sure we were okay. So comforting.

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