Challenging future leaders: NAF's innovative approach to oral health education

By: Lindsey Dixon, Vice President, Product & Innovation, NAF

Talent is universal. Opportunity is not. That’s why NAF – a national education non-profit that brings schools and businesses together to better prepare students of all backgrounds – has been steadfast in its mission to create opportunities for students to build the skills needed for college, career, and future success. Through its career-focused academies, NAF equips students with the skills and knowledge necessary to make informed decisions about their futures.

In addition to the NAF design that has been in existence for nearly 45 years, NAF recognized the need to reach students who may not have access to a NAF academy. That’s why KnoPro was created. KnoPro [powered by NAF] is a 100% FREE new platform for high school students who want to develop in-demand skills by completing real-world projects for cash and other prizes. KnoPro is an educator-designed platform that connects students and teachers with authentic industry challenges and professional mentors that help students build skills and develop their career aspirations. 

Recently, the Delta Dental Institute provided vital funding, through the Delta Dental Oral Health Diversity Fund, to further advance this project and other NAF initiatives, including the launch of an innovative pilot introducing Oral Health as a viable career path for high school students. With the support of Delta Dental, NAF aims to promote Oral Health pathways within its network of Academies of Health Sciences and beyond through three key avenues:

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    Curriculum Development: NAF will develop a new Oral Health strand within its Academy of Health Sciences curriculum, currently implemented in 88 academies nationwide, serving over 17,700 students.

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    Expeditions: NAF will create a new Oral Health Expedition, an authentic project-based learning activity that allows students to apply their knowledge to solve real-world challenges in the field of Oral Health.

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    KnoPro Challenge: Building on the success of previous challenges, NAF launched an Oral Health KnoPro Challenge, inviting students to tackle the question of how oral health can be improved for kids in under-resourced communities.

The impact of these initiatives is already evident. During the recent Bridging the Dental Gap challenge sponsored by the Delta Dental Institute, the challenge asked students to answer the question “How can we improve oral health for kids in underresourced communities?” 166 students from 13 states and 27 schools participated, with over 90% of students reporting improvements in collaboration, communication, problem-solving, and social awareness skills. Notably, 91% of participants reported learning about at least one new potential job title or career path in the dental health industry. One participant reported, “I learned a lot about dental health disparities,” and another said, “It allowed us to think very broadly about dental health and the sky was the limit.”

Looking ahead, NAF aims to quadruple its reach by 2025, serving approximately 400,000 students annually. By incorporating a new Oral Health pathway into its curriculum today, NAF is laying the foundation for sustainable long-term change. Over the next 20 years, NAF plans to support 1.5-2 million students in becoming career-ready, thereby fueling workforce growth and diversification.

By promoting oral health pathways and providing access to rewarding work-based learning experiences, NAF is ensuring that all students have the opportunity to explore and pursue fulfilling careers. Through partnerships with organizations like the Delta Dental Institute, NAF is empowering future leaders and shaping a brighter tomorrow for generations to come.

NAF is one of the Delta Dental Institute’s inaugural awardees of the Delta Dental Oral Health Diversity Fund.