The value of a young mind — a Hartford case in point

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What really makes a difference? At the High Road School of Hartford, we would say teamwork. We saw the power of collaboration in action recently when a new, innovative mobile dental program was piloted at our high school. The program addresses a critical need in the local area by serving underprivileged students who might not otherwise have access to such care. For some, it was the first time they received basic dental exams and cleanings.

While this might sound simple now, the program took months of hard work, planning and an entire community to make it all happen. The idea sprouted from the desire of a senior at another local high school – Marwa Abdinoor, from Capital Preparatory Magnet School – to challenge the healthcare status quo and affect change.

Her vision grew as more people got involved. Her teacher helped her develop an actionable plan. Staff at the local Charter Oak Health Center secured a grant and promised resources. And administrators at the High Road School offered a venue.

As an educator (Brooke) and a student (Marwa), we have a shared mission to combine knowledge, inspiration and resources to develop ideas that can make a difference. That is what education is all about, expanding the mind, challenging the status quo and taking steps to test possible outcomes. The dental program is not the experiment or the success of one student, but it took one young mind with a strong voice to create inertia. School nurse Joan Thiesen and hygienist Emily Boudewyns have been instrumental in keeping the program going.

One of the biggest challenges was finding a school willing to be a partner in such a project. At the High Road School, our concern was not having enough interest from our families. However, as more parents returned permission slips, it became clear we were helping meet a need for our students. For many of our parents, taking time off of work for basic check-ups can be a real challenge. At the High Road School, we serve students with a variety of academic, social and behavioral challenges, and so this program is a way we can enhance even more our holistic approach. It also helps us show parents that we truly are partners in meeting their child’s needs.

The dental program also has brought education full circle, from classroom teachings about health to real-world experience. Students can see the importance of preventive care as we make it a priority to bring it to them. This in turn helps them set healthy habits. Research shows those who don’t have dental care can develop dental anxiety or even phobia. Not receiving care can lead to serious conditions that can affect not only the mouth but deteriorate overall health.

But perhaps most importantly, the dental program gave our students the opportunity to see one of their peers succeed in bringing to life her vision of helping others. In any high school program, the goal is to help students grow into adults who care about the people around them and will make moves to positively impact society. This dental program is a perfect example, and we are grateful to be a part of it. We hope that our students, as well as other young people, feel inspired and empowered by the success we have seen here.

Our community’s efforts also could serve as an example for other districts in states across the country, and maybe even around the globe. Health care is a universal issue, and raising awareness about any discrepancy regarding access can be critical in helping others get the care they need.

Brooke Violante Kelly is Regional Vice President of the Schools Group at High Road Schools’ parent company Catapult Learning, and Marwa Abdinoor, a senior at Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford.


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