Grant to benefit student health at Princeton

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published October 5, 2012

Hoping to curb future health care costs and cut the number of obese Michiganders, a local insurance company has teamed up with 20 schools, including Lakeview’s Princeton Elementary, to emphasize physical activity and healthy eating to students.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan devoted $600,000 to create healthy living partnerships at the schools for the 2012-13 school year, to be implemented by Wayne State University’s Center for School Health. The program also includes components from the Michigan Fitness Foundation.

“We are looking at the fact that we want to continue to find ways to help students be healthier,” said Princeton Elementary School Principal Sherry Michalowicz. “Physical activity and movement help children learn better than being sedentary all the time.”

Through the program, the school’s 455 students are receiving about $30,000 worth of help in the form of equipment, training and specialists sent to the school. At the end of September, the school’s physical education teachers participated in an Epic training program, a “physical education curriculum that really works on motor skills. We will be instituting that,” Michalowicz said.

This is the fourth year for Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Building Healthy Communities program, but the first year it is working with Wayne State University and the Michigan Fitness Foundation in schools.

Nate McCaughtry, director of the WSU’s Center for School Health, said they have been working on healthy school transformations for more than a decade and completely redesigned the BCBS program this year.

“This is primarily a physical activity and healthy eating program,” he said. “Those being the two dominant issues with childhood obesity.”

They provide training and mentoring to the school staff along with the equipment and other resources needed to run the program.

“You can’t just throw teachers a bunch of great books,” he said. “We did some training sessions, and right now … we’re going out daily, out in the schools, taking those resources (and) hosting teacher workshops.”

About 70 schools applied for the program this year.

“We’re really committed to investing in this generation of children, so they can grow up healthy and establish healthy habits,” said Shannon Carney Oleksyk, a registered dietician and healthy living adviser for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “We really engage the principal of the school. When they walk the walk and talk the talk, we know parents and kids really step up and listen.”

A nutritionist will work with health teachers at Princeton Elementary to create nutrition lessons for students in second- through fourth-grades that include healthy snacks and lesson materials. The school is also expecting a shipment of about 3,700 pounds of exercise and playground equipment.

“The amount of equipment is phenomenal,” Michalowicz said.

She said this will mean that, for the first time, they can have separate equipment — including sports balls, Frisbees, jump ropes, field hockey equipment and an exercise parachute — for recess and for gym class so that class equipment isn’t lost or misplaced during recess.

Michalowicz said she has always believed in increased activity for children. She taught fifth-grade for 18 years before entering school administration and used to have her students run around the outdoor field at least once during recess before they could have free time to play as they wished.

The grant will also pay for stipends for volunteers to come in and begin such programs as afterschool clubs for physical activity, healthy family nights and event a Zumba class.

“We’re very excited,” she said. “We’re getting library books; we’re getting a cart that will just include healthy activity books for kids to check out. There is a healthy snack list with little recipes on it that every child is going to be taking home, as well.”

Carney Oleksyk said they hope to be creating healthy lifestyle habits in the children that will benefit them for years to come.

“The whole state will benefit if we can raise a healthy generation of kids,” she said.