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A Fifth-Grade Class and a College Professor Work Together On Oral Health

“What foods are good for your teeth and what foods are bad?”

“What if a baby was born with a tooth? Does that count as its first set of teeth?”

“What other colors can your teeth turn besides green?”

Those were just a sampling of the questions Sandi Fisher’s fifth graders posed to Theresa Grady, Dental Hygiene program director at Community College of Philadelphia, during Grady’s visit to William Cramp Elementary School, located in the city’s Fairhill neighborhood.

The student-reporters interviewed Grady as part of their school’s partnership with Healthy NewsWorks, a Philadelphia-area nonprofit program that empowers student journalists to transform the health of their communities by producing school-based health newspapers, related media and an annual book that profiles area health leaders. The College serves as one of the sponsors of the 2016 book, “Leading Healthy Change in Our Communities 2016,” which will be distributed to schools, libraries, medical offices and other community venues.

Healthy NewsWorks currently partners with 14 public and independent K-8 schools in the Philadelphia region. And, recently, Community College of Philadelphia joined its list of community health collaborators.

The partnership with Healthy NewsWorks allows the College to expand its presence with younger audiences and share the opportunities it provides. Research shows that students who work on school newspapers in high school get better grades, earn higher scores on the ACT and get better grades as college freshmen.

Healthy NewsWorks is reaching these prospective journalists at an even younger age, introducing critical thinking skills that prepare them to live, work and engage as active citizens.

Dr. Warren Hilton, Community College of Philadelphia’s dean of Enrollment Management, said the College’s partnership with Healthy NewsWorks is symbiotic as it gives the College access to Healthy NewsWorks' growing network of children and families and offers “a unique opportunity to target students who will be successful in school,” he said. “So it makes sense.”

The young journalists at Healthy NewsWorks, now in its 13th year, focus on health and wellness issues. This year’s special topic is “Healthy Smiles.” No other allied health program at the College fits that theme better than the Dental Hygiene program, which prepares its students to become oral health clinicians and educators.

The students of Cramp Elementary came to the interview with Grady well prepared, drilling her with their rapid-fire questioning. The veteran educator was right in her element, giving thoughtful replies while sharing her knowledge as an oral health professional.

The students’ eyes widened as Grady, a Community College of Philadelphia graduate, shared that, as a child, she knew she wanted to help others by becoming a dental health professional by extracting the teeth of her friends. “They had loose teeth that were bothering them,” she said. “I used a tissue and my finger. It would bleed a little but that didn’t bother me.”

The Healthy NewsWorks student interview is part of a multi-pronged, collaborative process unlike any in scholastic journalism, said Marian Uhlman, Healthy NewsWorks’ founder and director. Students start by researching the questions they will ask, and then, after interviewing the subject, work to turn out an accurate, informational news story that is of value to their class, their school and the families in their community.

"We are really excited for the opportunity to have our student reporters engage with experts from Community College of Philadelphia," Uhlman said. "The College staff and students were incredibly helpful, well-informed, and inspiring to our young reporters."

From all indications, Grady’s presentation was a huge hit. When she asked students how many were considering a career in dental hygiene, a half dozen hands shot up. Grady then invited the entire class to tour the College, its dental hygiene clinic and talk to its dental hygiene students on the spot. They did, traveling to the College in late March.

Before class was dismissed, however, a student had one final question.

“Is your job important?” the student asked Grady.

“I would like to think so, yes,” Grady replied. “Because I’m helping my students learn and helping people with their teeth. I’m a disease-fighter.”