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Published in CenterView on February 11, 2013
Adriane White, D3, Dakarri Bell, Galloway Elementary, Hilary Sartain, D2
Adriane White, D3, Dakarri Bell, Galloway Elementary, Hilary Sartain, D2

Special learning projects expand education outside of the classroom

By Matt Westerfield

During a lull between pint-sized patients, third-year dental student Adriane White and second-year dental student Hilary Sartain paused to catch their breath.

On a day when more than 1,000 students from three Jackson public schools streamed through the School of Dentistry, the dental students described what had been an exciting morning so far.

“It’s fun and energetic, just to see the kids coming back smiling and saying, ‘Hey, I do go to the dentist,’” Sartain said. “It’s important to get them fired up about brushing their teeth.”

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the national Give Kids a Smile Day sponsored by the American Dental Association. The event took place Feb. 1 at the University of Mississippi Medal Center and across the nation.

While the effort to provide free cleanings and fluoride treatments to local elementary students is an annual event at UMMC, this year it was only the start of a slew of activities planned for this spring semester. Some are integrated into each school’s curriculum, others are dreamed up by students; but all are indicative of a growing emphasis on community service.

“There’s so much that can be done as opposed to just having one helping hand,” said White, whose volunteer efforts date back to her Girl Scout days. “There’s a big need to get education out there for kids.”

Following Give Kids a Smile Day, mid-February is devoted to service learning at the School of Dentistry, said Dr. Robin Howard, clinical assistant professor of dentistry. In addition to guest speakers, the D3 students will shadow at federally qualified health centers around the state to get a sense of the community needs. Then they will present what they learned to their classmates.

“The idea is to learn what’s out there,” Howard said. “We want the students to get outside of Jackson and think about how they can plug into the needs of the state as licensed dentists, how they can serve different populations.”

Tomaseo Baker, Galloway Elementary, Julie Tran, senior dental hygiene student
Tomaseo Baker, Galloway Elementary, Julie Tran, senior dental hygiene student

Later this spring, the School of Dentistry will play a large role in the Mississippi Dental Association’s Mission of Mercy project, a free clinic for underserved Mississippians at the Hinds Community College campus in Pearl April 26-27. Students, faculty and staff will volunteer at the event, which first took place in summer 2011. Nursing students also will be on hand to provide blood-pressure checks at the Mission of Mercy.

Tammy Dempsey, director of student affairs in the School of Nursing, said the school recently adopted a service learning model as part of its curriculum.

“We’re actually building the community service activities around outcomes that students are achieving academically in support of classroom and clinical learning,” she said. “But those activities are still happening outside of the classroom.”

All of the schools require their students to perform a certain amount of community service, some of which is “co-curricular,” such as in the SON. But even there, students are free to find their own projects, and there is no grade tied to volunteer work.

“Service learning has dual benefits. It offers a benefit to the community and to the student as well in terms of advancing their learning, allowing them the opportunity to put it in the context of a real-world setting, as well as allowing them to critically think about how that experience impacts the community and their professional practice,” Dempsey said.

Most recently, SON students volunteered to help with the HeARTS against AIDS fund-raiser in Fondren Feb. 9. Upcoming activities include Habitat for Humanity, health fairs and a supply drive to support the SON’s school-based clinics. That project, organized by the student government, is open to students from all schools on campus and is part of a new “School Cup” initiative, encouraging friendly competition among the different disciplines.

Fourth-year medical student Jonathan Peeples, vice president of the Associated Student Body, said he borrowed the idea last fall from a School of Pharmacy food drive for Stewpot, basing it on the House Cup from the Harry Potter book series. Now the schools compete to earn points through a variety of activities, including philanthropy.

“Each of the six schools is allowed to host one philanthropy event per year, and the schools get points based on their performance on a per-capita basis,” Peeples said. “Whichever school has the most points at the end of the year is declared the winner and given a trophy. The idea is to better coordinate philanthropy events on campus.”

So far, pharmacy students have hosted their food drive, dubbed “Hungry Games,” and SHRP students have hosted a Christmas toy drive for Batson Children’s Hospital. Also in the works are a lip sync competition hosted by the School of Medicine to raise money for the Jackson Free Clinic, and a book drive hosted by the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences for the Opportunity Center, a day shelter for the homeless. 

In the School of Health Related Professions, students in the Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Health Informatics and Information Management Programs are taking on a bigger presence at the Jackson Free Clinic, which recently added a rehab section.

Back at Give Kids a Smile Day, senior dental hygiene student Julie Tran took a moment while preparing her exam chair for her next patient. She said community service helps her be a better student.

“I’ve always been interested in giving back,” she said. “It motivates me. I do a lot better in my schoolwork if I stay active and volunteer.”