She has been incorporating service learning into her classes for the last three years at USI in the College of Nursing and Health
Profession’s Dental Hygiene Program. Both Community Oral Health Theory (DTHY 411) and Community Oral Health Practicum (DTHY412) benefit student learning, the community partners, and her overall enhancement of teaching. She believes serving the oral health needs of the community is an ethical responsibility.
In the Community Oral Health Theory course, students are required to pick a pre-established USI related service event such as the health fair on campus, Friends and Family Weekend, volunteering with other USI health professions in a health fair at the county jail, visiting a local school tutoring program for children (Westbrook Evolution) or participating with other USI program students at the Community First Health Fair. Students interview the event planners to learn the challenges in developing and implementing service-learning events. Then they gain experience in providing oral health education and screenings to those attending the events. Following these projects, students reflect on what they did, why it was important to their education, and how they will implement what they learned to future experiences.
In the following semester’s course, Community Oral Health Practicum, students are assigned the task of developing an original community health project. Students select a specific target group, conduct an assessment to determine need for an oral health program, and then identify a potential facility in need. They must build a relationship with the facility and be tuned in to the facility’s perceived goals and protocols. Together with the community partners, students develop a program meeting the need of the facility’s client base. Recognizing the importance of sustaining the program once their time with the facility is done, a major portion of the project is to develop a “train the trainer” session whereby the facility will be able to continue to provide the oral health program after the current year’s USI students have graduated. In previous years, students have gone to The Potter’s Wheel, Head Start, Jacob’s Village, and the YMCA to name just a few. Following implementation of the program, analysis, and reflection on the event, students present their findings to the class. Mrs. Coan engages her students making them aware of the importance of serving the community and the difference it can make to the overall health of the general population.
These classes benefit everyone involved in the service learning experience. Students see an important connection between their studies and serving the community as they develop as a professional. They become good stewards by taking their projects and practicums very seriously. They become more aware of current and local community health needs, and they appreciate the opportunity to serve.
The community partners benefit from the experience as well. Participants appreciate the positive change in their lives because of service learning. Facilities have requested students to repeat presentations to other populations or at additional meetings and events. They enjoy the service the students provide, often requesting their continued help and project ideas on their own personal time after the class has ended.
These classes have also enhanced Mrs. Coan’s teaching. She believes these activities are fun and important to the students’ education. Students also get an opportunity to see her as a person and not someone who imply stands behind a podium. She believes that students watch what you do more than they listen to what you say. Mrs. Coan uses the motto “We are USI. We serve.” with her students frequently and will continue to do so with future classes.
USI has a great reputation within the community, and the dental hygiene program contributes to this positive community perception.