It was crafts and cleanings and a whole lot more as the Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures mobile dental program wrapped up four days with Grand Rapids Public Schools at Mulick Park Elementary.

The week-long project was a collaboration between GRPS and the Grand Valley State University Master of Public Health program with invaluable assistance from a quintet of local dental offices.

At Mulick Park, the school’s PK through fifth-grade scholars had a chance to get dental screenings, dental report cards, treatment referrals and free oral care kits in a large, brightly colored bus parked just outside the library doors.

Inside the dental clinic on wheels, a team of volunteers from Growing Smiles Pediatric Dentistry, alongside GVSU public health students, was hard at work checking those Mulick Park scholars who had signed up for the event.

Meanwhile, inside the school, other Mulick Park scholars were circulating between eight dimensions of wellness education activities set up in a classroom and the library. There more GVSU public health students were working with their young counterparts in activities that were part play and part pedagogy.

One activity used colorful shapes to create interesting patterns, while another saw scholars coloring a gratitude jar with things in their lives they were thankful for. Spaghetti noodles and mini marshmallows were a big hit, and the yoga station was a particular favorite for the Mulick Park scholars as they had fun and burned off some excess energy.

Kim Baron, Director of School Health Services for GRPS, was on hand at Mulick Park and was all smiles.

“Isn’t this great,” she said, looking around the library and the interactions between Mulick Park scholars and GVSU students and faculty. “I love an event like this that addresses the whole child.”

Baron was grateful to Growing Smiles, one of the local offices that volunteered time during the week, joining Smiley Family Dentistry and Mitten Kids Dentistry in providing hygienists and dentists from their respective offices to screen participants.

Baron also was thrilled to have the district partner with GVSU’s public health students.

“I love my role as a public health professional,” she said. “It’s awesome to see these public health students practice their skills and be exposed to the real work of prevention and health promotion.”

Ranelle Brew, Director of the GVSU School of Public Health, agreed.

Brew initially reached out to GRPS to introduce the idea of dental days in the district. She has worked with Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures in the past, and last year at a national public health conference, she was able to reconnect with colleagues at Colgate BSBF to bring them to Grand Rapids in 2022.

At Mulick Park, she was here, there and everywhere as she bounced back and forth between the mobile clinic and the two wellness rooms, interacting with her students and Mulick Park scholars, leading groups to the different stations and more, beaming with delight all the while.

“I have enjoyed every day, every child, every school, and every community partner we had the opportunity to work with through this partnership,” she said.

Brew noted that more than 50 graduate students assisted in facilitating the education activities shared with the children at each school and serving as screening assistants alongside the community dental partners.

“The opportunity to offer students a hands-on and interactive experience in our local school system are invaluable to their future careers in public health, so for that, we are grateful for the partnership,” she said. 

Though this year was a pilot program for the new partnership, both Baron and Brew thought things went well and hope that in the future the event can be extended to even more GRPS schools.

Established in 1991, Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures has reached more than 1.4 billion children and families in more than 100 countries across the world. The program strategically partners to reach underserved children and their families where they are born, live, work, learn and play. BSBF continues to promote health equity, optimal health and well-being, and leads global social impact efforts that empower children and families to achieve healthy and bright futures.