It's smiles by the bus load
Mil Elliott stood outside the large bus-like vehicle at West Walton Elementary School in Yuba City Tuesday morning, watching young children clamber up the steps and make their way to the dentist's chair.
Elliott is the resource coordinator of "Smart Start," a free preschool program created four years ago by the Yuba City Unified School District and the Sutter County Children and Families Commission.
The dental bus, known as "Sutter County Smiles," has been stationed at West Walton during the four weeks of preschool, to provide children up to age 6 with full dental service, including fillings and X-rays.
"This is the first year we've had the dental bus at one of our preschool sites," Elliott said.
Deb Coulter, executive director of the commission, said the year-old bus is a partnership
between the school district, the commission and Peach Tree Clinic, run by the Fremont-Rideout Health Group. Since the preschool also is a collaboration, the two tie in perfectly, she said.
"This is not just for preschool students," Coulter said. "Our focus is children ages zero to 6, but Dr. (Tracy) Dao will see their siblings in the afternoon, up to 10 years old."
Coulter said Dao operates her private practice inside the mobile dental unit. She has served approximately 500 children and provided 1,400 services.
The school district provides the drivers and maintenance for the bus, the Peach Tree Clinic hires the hygienist and pays for supplies, and the commission provides everything else, mostly with Proposition 10 tobacco tax money.
Coulter said it costs approximately $150,000 to operate, but runs up to $500,000 per year with salaries.
First taste of school
Elliott said the dental bus is a perfect tie-in to the children the Smart Start program is trying to serve. The preschool is not necessarily for low-income students, she said.
"This program is for any child who has not been to preschool or has never been away from their parents," she said. "We can help with that separation anxiety now, before they reach kindergarten."
Elliott said the focus of the pre-kindergarten classes is teaching the children basic socialization skills like lining up, sharing, taking turns and learning to write their names.
The program is held at five school sites throughout the summer, and each site includes a kindergarten teacher, a preschool teacher, a classroom aide and a parent liaison.
"There are four adults there, which is really helpful," Elliott said. "We typically have a few kids who are anxious and there are some tears, so the parent liaison can help with that and the teacher doesn't have to stop teaching."
Classes were held earlier in the summer in Sutter and Live Oak. Elliott said she is hoping the program will expand next year into south Sutter County.
"It's amazing to me to see these kids at the end of the program," Elliott said. "They make a lot of growth in four weeks and learn those critical social skills they really need."
Appeal-Democrat reporter Kymm Mann can be reached at 749-4708. You may e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.