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Youth glimpse a different future through I Am Potential

Posted by Cheryl Bell on November 28, 2017 in News
DDS3 student Evan Baird leads students through an exercise as part of I Am Potential

Lucas definitely does not want to be a dentist when he grows up. He would prefer to be an artist. Still, he happily plunges his hand into a dish of cold alginate to make an impression of his fist.

Lucas is one of 20 grade eight students from Oxford Elementary and Highland Park schools who are participating in I Am Potential, an after-school mentoring program that connects inner-city junior high youth with university student volunteers each week on campus for hands-on learning sessions in engineering, theatre, and medicine.

The Navigators of Halifax started I Am Potential in 2013 with the aim of giving youth positive adult role models and encouraging them to think about pursuing post-secondary education.

Making an impression of a fist in alginate.

Students working with students
It is the end of October and the students are in the bench and simulation labs in the Dentistry Building, trying out a few typical dentistry exercises under the watchful eyes of first, second, and third-year dentistry students. It is the third year that the Faculty of Dentistry has participated in the program.

DDS3 student Lindsay James worked with Dalhousie medical students to organize the session and recruited the dentistry student volunteers.  She has volunteered with youth groups in the past and sees I Am Potential as a way of “staying involved with programs like these and of giving back”.

She worked with faculty advisor Dr. Cynthia Andrews to come up with three activities the junior high students could try in the labs: making an alginate impression of their hands, drilling and filling a tooth, and polishing hard-boiled quails’ eggs. They also learn about gum disease, cavities, and a little bit about studying dentistry, including advice on what courses to take in high school.

Introducing youth to dentistry
DDS3 student Tom Raddall decided to volunteer because he came to a Faculty open house and summer camps as a high school student and had the opportunity to learn about dentistry as a profession. “Now I can show others what is involved in becoming a dentist.”

Tom is working with Maddox from Highland Park School. He doesn’t know what he will do when he finishes school, but he knows he likes science. He is busily learning how to drill and fill a tooth.

Evan Baird, another DDS3 student volunteer, learned about dentistry from a family friend and had a chance to go see what he did at work each day. But when he was younger, “I didn’t know about dentistry. Events such as these give kids a chance to see what it is all about and it gets them interested.”

Even the faculty members are learning, too. Dr. Andrews says that she heard about using hardboiled quails’ eggs to teach polishing from her dental hygiene colleagues, who have been using the teaching technique for years. “I will definitely be doing this with my second-year students in the future. Normally, we stain the teeth of a typodont, but it’s not as effective. This exercise is much more meaningful in terms of the skill needed.”

Hannah Gonzales, a leader with Navigators Halifax, says that junior high students are “curious and want to learn about cool things”. She has witnessed first-hand the positive impact I am Potential can have. “I was talking with some girls from last year’s group. They felt that they had gained more confidence from participating in I Am Potential, and they are more interested in pursuing further education.”

Which is what I Am Potential is all about.

Polished and non-polished quails' eggs.