Building Brighter Smiles and Futures: Leta Jonasson’s Dental Hygiene Learning Journey
Going to university as a parent to become a dental hygienist is hard but with support and encouragement in her school community, Leta Jonasson is finding reasons to smile. She’s a Lake Manitoba First Nation member who lives in Winnipeg and she’s working hard to build a career where she can really “clean up”, from teeth to all the bills that come with raising children.
Before having kids, she worked full time in retail. After becoming a mom, she decided to go back to school because she felt she needed a better career to support them. She really wanted to give them the kind of life she wished she had as a kid.
Part of the reason she decided to become a dental hygienist is that her aunt was a dental assistant who taught herself how to clean teeth. She made Jonasson’s experience with the dentist positive, giving her twenty dollars every time. Knowing how many First Nations people don't have the means to get their teeth cleaned and how travelling to the dentist can be such a burden, she thought having that skill would be a way she could help her community.
The dental hygiene program is competitive and she’s taking anatomy, statistics, and English to upgrade to get admitted to the program. Because so many people want to get into the program, they look for high grade point averages in the people they let in. Fortunately there are programs to help Indigenous students and that support made networking, navigating the University of Manitoba campus, finding financial aid, and summer job search easier for Jonasson.
She found out about the special Indigenous student support program when someone handed her a flyer while she was on campus upgrading her sciences. She didn’t think she would be accepted because it was a summer program for students who were just graduating and she was a mature student. She applied anyway, got in and had so much fun over the summer. Jonasson also found it immensely helpful.
Extra help was important because her kids are six and two years old and going to school as a parent can be a real challenge, especially with an illness-prone child who is attending daycare. Between COVID and her son having RSV and baby measles, she missed a lot of class time but made it up. His bout with RSV came right before Christmas, during exams, while she was trying to finish things up before the holidays and it was a terrifying experience watching him struggle to breathe.
Jonasson has many years of school ahead, and while that feels overwhelming, she knows that it's worth it. “My kids will have a better future…and then helping the communities always feels good, too. No matter how old you are, it's still good to go back to school,” she reminds herself. Her children inspire her, as does her friend who does a lot of work helping in Indigenous communities. She wants to be able to help her people as much as she can.
She has encouraging advice to share based on the experiences she’s had in school. “Keep going. It seems hard but there's a lot of help out there. It does get easier after a while,” she encourages, reflecting on all the opportunities that are available but that you need to apply for. She applied and a bursary she received helped her a lot with her expenses as a student and a parent. Otherwise, she suggests reaching out to family, friends, and professors for support and to make sure that your social circle reflects the kinds of changes you want to make in your life. “The people who you surround yourself with are really important,” she explains. Most of the time, she’s surrounded by her kids, but she knows her friendships matter, too, and she’s careful to be around people who share her growth mindset.
When she’s not busy with school, she likes to go shopping when she can, or go out of town with her kids to Riverton where she has a small house and can spend time with her family. When the city can feel overwhelming, a change of scenery can be helpful, especially when she’s making a change in her life as big as this.
This Lake Manitoba First Nation member is working hard to build a career where she can really “clean up”, from teeth in her community to all the bills that come with raising children. Going to university as a parent to become a dental hygienist is hard but Leta Jonasson is finding reasons to smile and new ways to make her kids smile, too, giving them the kind of life she wishes she had, once upon a time.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.