Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.) has a higher percentage of individuals living in poverty than the state average and several counties also have obesity rates above the state average. In 2014, The University of Michigan’s Project Healthy Schools
(PHS), with support from the Superior Health Foundation and the Building Healthy Schools partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, launched the Building Healthy Communities: Engaging Middle Schools through Project Healthy Schools program in two U.P. schools. The program is now in 13 out of 15 counties across the U.P., for a total of 21 U.P. schools.
The U.P. is known for its long winters, which means a shorter growing season, fewer farms, and less access to fresh produce. Other barriers to wellness in the U.P. include lower levels of physical activity during the winter and increased access to convenience and fast food. Project Healthy Schools is working to overcome these barriers.
“The schools in the U.P. have really embraced the PHS pro-
gram,” said Brad Newman, PHS grants and wellness coordinator for the U.P. schools.
“They really appreciate the resources and support provided by the program and are using them to make a difference in students’ lives and to change school cultures.”
Laurie Johnson, the co-wellness champion at Manistique Middle & High School said, “I feel it is so important to educate and show children that there is a wide array of healthy and nutritious foods out there that actually taste good. It’s also important to show them how much fun exercise can be and how great you feel afterward. The benefits are a bonus. PHS has such a great curriculum with support and tools that are tried and true!”
“The greatest impact on my students has been through the discussions about reducing screen time and increasing physical activity,” said Jody Smith, wellness champion at Rudyard Elementary School. “So many students have made a real effort in trying to make better choices. It’s a great curriculum to start those life-changing conversations.”
Caitlynn, a student at Newberry Middle School, said, “After I learned how important it is to eat breakfast, I thought I would try to wake up earlier and eat breakfast. I found that I was doing much better in school because of eating to start my day.”
“I enjoyed many of the PHS lessons, but especially liked the salad lesson,” said Chelsea, a sixth-grade student at Sault Area Middle School. “I had never tried a lot of the things that were in the salad. I also loved our new kickboxing equipment during PE class.”
While the PHS curriculum helps students understand how nutrition and activity influence their lifelong health, the school-wide wellness initiatives let them practice making healthy choices and expose students to new foods and activities that many have never tried before. For example, Wakefield-Marenisco School students tried snowshoeing on a local trail and snow tubing as part of the Winter Wellness Month initiative. Students at Rudyard Elementary School went on a cross country skiing field trip. Aspen Ridge Middle School students grow fresh produce in a hoop house, and many schools hold healthy food tastings.
“I love Gala apples, I never tried that kind until we did the apple tasting. I make my Mom buy them now,” said Liam, a fourth-grade student at Blesch Intermediate School in Menominee.
“I have never had a green smoothie or kale. I tried the sample and I liked it, even though I thought it was going to taste bad! I will try to make this at home,” said a fifth-grade student at Father Marquette Middle School.
Mike Steber, principal of Washington Middle School in Calumet, summed it up this way, “PHS is an amazing program. It gave us the resources and encouragement to implement healthier options into our lunch program. I highly recommend PHS!
PHS hopes to expand to the last two counties in the U.P. next fall.