Tufts University Dental Students Bring Multilingual Storytelling to Kids
Tufts University School of Dental Medicine (TUSDM) students have launched an innovative initiative called StoryTime!, engaging children with captivating multilingual storytelling. Spearheaded by Ashley Makala, a dental student from the Class of 2023, StoryTime! offers a collection of videos featuring 40 TUSDM students reading various children's books in different languages. This project, initiated during the peak of the pandemic in 2020, serves as a community service effort by the Student National Dental Association (SNDA) and aims to promote childhood literacy while inspiring young students of color to consider dentistry as a future career path.
Motivated by the decline in children's literacy skills resulting from school closures, Makala sought to foster literacy within underrepresented communities. Partnering with Nancy Marks, the Tisch College/TUSDM Community Service Program Coordinator, Makala explored virtual reading possibilities to reach children learning from home. In November 2020, she called for volunteers from the SNDA, and an impressive response of 18 students eagerly stepped forward. To expand the project's vision, Makala invited Nickeisha Louis-Elias, Amber Courtney, and Arika Neal-Branch, fellow SNDA members, to co-lead StoryTime! with her. Recognizing the diverse language backgrounds within the TUSDM community, they decided to include books in multiple languages.
Supporting their efforts, Arika Neal-Branch secured a grant from the Tisch Fund for Civic Engagement in February 2021. The grant allowed the organizers to purchase new books, cover operational expenses, and refine the reading and recording process. With the addition of 25 new volunteers, including 15 returning readers from the initial group, StoryTime! expanded its reach. The team collectively spoke ten languages, elevating the project beyond its initial offering of Spanish and English readings. Throughout 2021, with guidance from Martha Forero, assistant professor and director of school-based student outreach programs, the StoryTime! video collection underwent careful review and editing, ensuring high quality and consistency.
StoryTime! features a wide range of books, encompassing dental-themed stories as well as beloved classics and tales addressing universal themes of growth and belonging. The multilingual video collection attracted visitors primarily from Massachusetts, but the website received hits from across the United States and several other countries. Amber Courtney collaborated with Martha Forero to establish partnerships with community organizations such as Boys and Girls' Clubs, Head Start programs, and dental offices to expand the project's impact.
As the original leaders of StoryTime! prepare to graduate, Ashley Makala remains optimistic about the project's future. The overwhelming support and positive feedback from volunteers and the TUSDM community have inspired continued enthusiasm. The dedicated efforts of the project's leaders, along with the unwavering support of faculty advisors and the Department of Public Health, have transformed StoryTime! from a pandemic-born endeavor into a beloved and enduring initiative. The commitment and tenacity exhibited by the students have been recognized and applauded by Nancy Marks and other faculty members.
The success of StoryTime! lies not only in its ability to promote literacy but also in its power to foster connections within the community. Even as new challenges arise, the passionate leaders remain dedicated to fulfilling their vision. StoryTime! stands as a testament to the resilience and determination of dental students at Tufts University, continuing to bring the joy of storytelling to children well beyond the pandemic.
For the original story, visit the TUSDM site.