More than 700 toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste were dropped into cardboard boxes at Mennonite College of Nursing last semester. The supplies were handed out by nursing students when they did their pediatric clinical rotations in school districts for the first time.

Placing nursing students in schools makes perfect sense to Mennonite College of Nursing Advocate BroMenn Endowed Professor Shelly Malin.

“I’ve always been an advocate for clinical experiences outside of a hospital because the reality is most kids are never in a hospital.”

Malin leads the America’s Promise School Project, which enlists nursing faculty and students to provide education on dental health, healthy eating, and exercise. Students focus on two issues identified in a needs assessment of schools—obesity and oral health.

“There’s a high correlation between the two,” said former president of the Student Nurses Association Cristina Smith ’12, who completed a 16-week rotation working with grade-schoolers.

“Most people don’t look at oral health as something that’s important to your overall health and it really is. A lot of them didn’t even know what flossing was.”

In addition to classroom teaching, Mennonite students provide education during health fairs and parent-teacher conferences, handing out forms for children to receive free dental exams and sealants.

“They’re making a difference and they’re learning and that’s our goal,” Malin said. “The schools have been wonderful partners. Our students are getting excellent learning experiences, and we’re working to meet the needs identified by the schools and the community.”