Farmington Hills schools selected for health education program

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published January 21, 2020

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FARMINGTON HILLS — Three local schools are on a journey to create healthier children and classrooms.

Kenbrook Elementary School; Power Middle School, in the Farmington Public Schools district; and Faxon Language Immersion Academy, a K-8 public charter school, were among the 130 schools across Michigan selected for Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Building Healthy Communities program for the 2019-2020 school year.

The program started in 2009, working to address the obesity crisis, said Shannon Carney Oleksyk, the program’s director. Since then, she said, the program has continued to evolve, with organizers “learning from evaluation results, schools and other experts.”

The program focuses on improving nutrition and increasing physical activity by providing school personnel “with the training, curriculum, equipment, funds communication tools and external coaches needed to implement a culture of wellness.”

There are elementary and middle school Project Healthy Schools programs, and a third program titled Step up for School Wellness open to all grades. Kenbrook Elementary and Faxon Academy were selected for the elementary program. Power Middle School was selected for the middle school program.

New this year is a mental health and well-being curriculum, though that curriculum is only offered in the Step up for Wellness program. Oleksyk said the program for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year hasn’t been finalized, and conversations around adding the mental health curriculum to all three programs “are still in progress.”

She said mental health initiatives were added because “there was a demand by schools,” and program officials decided it was the right time to fill that gap.

One of the main factors in a school being selected for the program is a demonstration that it’s ready to take on the program at all levels because it helps program officials determine the potential success within that school.

Power Middle School Principal Allison Robinson knew her school was ready because, as a school, they’re “always looking for ways to improve,” she said.

“One of the big things we’ve really focused on are ways to make ourselves healthier overall as people. It hasn’t always been physical health as a school initiative, but we work a lot on our relationships and how we treat each other,” she said. “This was just another way to capitalize on that idea of continuous growth.”

While Robinson said her school hasn’t seen many major changes due the project’s implementation yet, “that’s definitely where we’re headed,” she said.

Power Middle School has put together a student health leadership team of four students who are spearheading the initiative at the school. They’ve done an apple tasting during lunch hour, where students tasted and voted for their favorite of three different apples and walked away with a bookmark with information on 20 apple varieties.

The school has also implemented the program directly into its health classes. Students are surveyed before a 10-lesson nutrition series and then again after the lessons to see the impact those lessons had on students.

“Our next step is to survey our students about some of their health priorities — things they think are important and that they’d like to see us bring into our school,” Robinson said, adding that the school’s goal is to be inclusive to all student voices when determining the direction the program will take.

Overall, the program, which Oleksyk said is “designed to be sustainable,” has seen a lot of evidence-based successes and improvements over the last 10 years. Comments and feedback from school personnel, students and families reinforce the program’s benefits.

The program has seen a 40% increase above the national average in students choosing fruits and vegetables, a 28% increase in calories burned during physical activity, 35 extra minutes of play time per week, and 19 fewer minutes that students spend on their phones per day.

Reading and math skills have also improved by up to 74%.

The goal is to create holistically healthier individuals, Oleksyk said. While Power Middle School is in the beginning stages of that, Robinson hopes the program does just that in the long-run.

“We try to make it very real-world applicable to them,” she said. “We’re hoping to build healthy life-long eaters. Kids who know how to grocery shop and read labels and understand what a serving size is — all those lessons we emphasize that Project Healthy Schools is helping us with, as well.”

To learn more about the Building Healthy Communities program, visit bcbsm.com.

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