Stakeholders Invited to Connect with PHS Community

The Project Healthy Schools (PHS) team kicked off a new online event on February 23, 2021. This event was called “Community Conversations”. The host for the event was Ryann Eff, Associate Director of Development for the UM Frankel Cardiovascular Center, and featured guests were Dr. Kim Eagle, founder of Project Healthy Schools; and Jean DuRussel-Weston, PHS Manager. The goal of the event was to increase our community’s awareness of the impact, priorities, and vision of PHS in order to generate interest in sustaining our work within these communities in the future. More than 70 people participated online, offering a rich array of representation from across Michigan and the nation.

Project Healthy Schools began in 2004 with a gift for one Ann Arbor Middle School and has grown to over 140 schools in 17 years. Interesting facts that were shared included:

  • Since 2004, PHS has reached 141 schools and 47 Michigan counties.
  • We are currently in 106 current schools for a retention rate of 75% (includes Arizona and 3 Bangladesh schools).
  • Over 88,500 sixth-grade students have been reached to date.
  • Schools continue to be supported by PHS year after year.
  • Over 25,700 students have participated in our research.

A lively discussion during the hour-long event also included the sharing of PHS goals and its vision for the future.  We are victors of COVID-19 and were able to not only provide uninterrupted service during the pandemic, but actually expanded our program offerings through online lessons and a family resource page.  Our goals are to build on what we have learned this school year and to make sure that our program is even more diverse in offerings and more inclusive for all. We will also, in addition to our usual wellness lessons, continue educating students about infectious diseases and their role as citizens in their community.

We are planning to have another Community Conversations event in Fall 2021.  Stay tuned for dates and times!

PHS Publication About Intervention for Abnormal Blood Pressure


It has been well established that high blood pressure is associated with heart disease and poor lifestyle habits among adults. A recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health explored these relationships among adolescents participating in Project Healthy Schools. Students were separated into two groups, based on their blood pressure before the PHS intervention:

  1. Abnormal blood pressure (>90th percentile for systolic and/or diastolic blood pressure, or blood pressure >120/80mmHg).
  2. Normal blood pressure (<90th percentile for systolic and/or diastolic blood pressure, or blood pressure <120/80mmHg).

Unfortunately, more than 1 in 4 PHS students had abnormal blood pressure (28.3%). Prior to the PHS intervention, students with abnormal blood pressure were more likely to be overweight or obese and had higher total cholesterol, triglycerides, random glucose, resting, and recovery heart rates than students with normal blood pressure. The abnormal blood pressure students also had worse dietary (non-diet and diet soda) and sedentary habits (television and video game screen time).

After the PHS intervention, students with abnormal blood pressure had significantly greater reductions in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, compared to students with normal blood pressure. This suggests school-based health interventions like PHS may be an effective first step in health management among adolescents with abnormal blood pressure.

ACES Day Media Created for Students Stuck at Home


May 5, 2021, was All Children Exercise Simultaneously (ACES) Day.  Since our usual in-person activities for the day weren’t possible this year, Project Healthy Schools, along with some of our friends, recorded videos that were made available to our schools so they could get their children moving throughout the day!

The Recordings are available for viewing here:

Thank you to the UM Women’s Basketball team, the UM Dance Team, and UM Adaptive Fitness for their excellent movement videos!  We are looking forward to all being together again next May for in-person ACES activities!   

PHS Manager’s Final Year Coming to an End


After 26 incredible years with the University of Michigan, Program Manager Jean DuRussel-Weston recently announced her plans to retire in July of 2021. DuRussel-Weston has been involved with Project Healthy Schools since its inception in 2004. “This is a difficult decision to make when you love your work and the people you work with,” said DuRussel-Weston, “but I am looking forward to the next chapter and the exciting opportunities it holds. The University of Michigan has played an important role in my career and my life choices, and I am grateful for my time here.”

DuRussel-Weston will be working closely in the coming weeks with program founder Dr. Kim Eagle, the MHealthy leadership team, and PHS staff to identify her replacement and ensure a smooth transition in the management of the program.

“I believe that Project Healthy Schools has and will continue to change the lives of children in a critically positive way,” she said. “We need to continue this mission until every child has the resources and the opportunity to lead a long and healthy life.”

Under Jean’s direction, the program has reached 141 schools and over 88,500 students across the state of Michigan, as well as programming in Arizona and Bangladesh. Under her leadership, the PHS program has earned numerous organizational awards and recognitions, including a Governor’s Fitness Award and the U-M President’s Staff Award of Distinction. DuRussel-Weston was key in building numerous partnerships and relationships that led to major program expansions across the state.

Project Healthy Schools will miss Jean’s leadership, and we thank her for her outstanding service!

Project Healthy Schools wins Governor’s Fitness Award

On August 20, Project Healthy Schools won the Governor’s Fitness Award in the Extraordinary Organization category. Presented by the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports and the Michigan Fitness Foundation, the Governor’s Fitness Awards recognize communities, organizations, and individuals who inspire people to eat healthy and move more where they live, work and play. The Extraordinary Organization award honors organizations with an extraordinary record of giving and stewardship that focuses on improving the environment where people live, learn, work, pray and play.

Project Healthy Schools was one of three finalists for this highly competitive award. The finalists were announced in March, just before the start of the pandemic. The awards gala, originally scheduled for April 23, was rescheduled for August 20 as a virtual awards celebration. Watch the virtual awards presentation video:

18 schools win Michigan School Wellness Awards

In June, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) recognized 50 Michigan schools for fostering healthy eating, physical activity habits and tobacco-free lifestyles; 18 of the award winning schools use the Project Healthy Schools (PHS) program. Fifty percent of the Gold award winners use PHS. These schools started PHS as part of the Building Healthy Communities partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and MDHHS.

The Michigan School Wellness Award program is a collaboration with the Michigan Department of Education; the United Dairy Industry of Michigan; Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan; Michigan Action for Healthy Kids; and the Healthy Kids, Healthy Michigan Coalition.

The program aims to engage schools statewide in creating healthy school environments by establishing school wellness teams, completing the State of Michigan’s Healthy School Action Tools and implementing sustainable policy and environmental changes. Schools that have achieved all of these elements are recognized with the top-level Gold award.

The winning PHS schools include:

Gold Award

• Allendale Middle School, Allendale
• Cherryland Middle School, Elk Rapids
• Ishpeming Middle/High School, Ishpeming
• John D. Pierce Middle School, Waterford
• MacDonald Middle School, East Lansing
• Portland Middle School, Portland
• Summit Academy North High School, Romulus
• White Pine Middle School, Saginaw

Silver Award

• Almont Middle School, Almont
• Creekside Intermediate School, Dexter
• DeWitt Middle School, DeWitt
• Grass Lake Middle School, Grass Lake
• Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy, Detroit
• Thunder Bay Junior High School, Alpena
• Vista Charter Academy, Wyoming

Bronze Award

• Bentley Middle School, Burton
• Pittsford Middle/High School, Pittsfield
• St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School, Coldwater

Congratulations to the administrators, wellness champions, and wellness teams at the above schools.

PHS now offers vaping and infectious diseases prevention lessons

This summer, the PHS team, in partnership with U-M experts from the Tobacco Consultation Service, Michigan Medicine, the School of Public Health, and the Medical School, developed two new lesson modules on vaping and infectious disease prevention. Based on feedback from teachers and wellness champions, both of these subjects are highly relevant for middle school students.

In the two-lesson vaping module, students learn to recognize different types of electronic nicotine delivery systems, the short- and long-term effects of vaping and the benefits of remaining tobacco free, common myths about vaping, refusal skills, and how vaping advertisements target young people.

The infectious disease module includes two lessons. The first lesson covers the difference between viruses and bacteria, the ways pathogens are transmitted, and three key factors of community spread. The second lesson identifies the purpose and function of the immune system; signs and symptoms of infectious disease; and prevention strategies for infectious disease, including COVID-19. Like all PHS lessons, these lessons include hands-on activities. Many of the activities can easily be adapted for use in a remote-learning environment. These new lesson modules are available to teachers and wellness champions on the PHS Portal, a password protected website for schools in the PHS program.

Students at first-year schools will receive a calendar with pages based on the PHS lessons. Above is the calendar page based on information in the new PHS lessons on infectious disease.

PHS wellness champion appointed to Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health, and Sports

Ryan Reichel from Ishpeming Middle School was appointed to serve on the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports.

Ryan Reichel, the PHS Wellness Champion at Ishpeming Middle School, was appointed by Governor Whitmer to serve on the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports. Reichel was appointed for a two-year term, ending in April 2022.

Reichel of Negaunee, is a physical education, computers and health teacher for Ishpeming Public schools and the girls’ varsity basketball coach. He holds a Master of Education in Physical Education from the University of Arkansas and two bachelor degrees from Northern Michigan University where he played on the men’s basketball team.

The Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports was established in 1992 to improve the health of, and increase physical activity among, Michigan residents. The Council is comprised of representatives from across the state, appointed by the current governor to two-year terms. The Council’s vision is that the state and its communities embrace and support physical activity and health education.

Gender-specific physiological and behavioral differences in PHS students

Graph of Health Behaviors of Boys and Girls at Baseline

Prior research has shown differences in physiologic and behavioral measurements of adolescent boys and girls. The PHS team sought to determine if similar gender-specific differences exist between PHS participants before and after the program.

Health behavior data from 19,959 sixth graders (49.2% girls) and physiologic data from 2,922 sixth graders (52.8% girls) were collected between 2004-2017. Prior to the PHS program, girls had lower HDL cholesterol and higher resting and recovery heart rates, but reported greater consumption of fruits and vegetables and less sugary beverages and fried meats than boys. Boys reported more vigorous exercise but greater hours of television and video game screen time than girls. After the PHS program, girls showed greater improvement in resting heart rate, fruit consumption and video game time than boys.

With the exception of physical activity and mobile device screen time, girls had generally healthier behaviors; however, they also had poorer physiological measures before the PHS program. The lower rates of physical activity and worse resting and recovery heart rates in girls highlight a potential area of focus for the PHS intervention.

Graph showing the relationship between Health Behaviors of Boys and Girls.
Prior to the PHS program, health behavior and physiologic data from middle-school students identified healthier behaviors in girls compared with boys, with the exception of physical activity and mobile device screen time. Girls, however, had poorer HDL cholesterol, resting and recover heart rates, identifying a potential area of focus for the PHS intervention.

Safe Routes to School grant funds bike education for under-served and disabled students

PHS is partnering with Programs to Educate All Cyclists (PEAC) to provide opportunities for increased physical activity through biking and bike education programing for under-served K-8 students and students with disabilities within the cities of Detroit and Ypsilanti. Eight schools will participate in the program, including: Dixon Educational Learning Academy, Hope of Detroit Academy, Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy, Summit Academy North Middle School, University Prep Art & Design Middle School, University Preparatory Science and Math Middle School, Washtenaw International Middle Academy, Ypsilanti Community Middle School.

Schools may choose from three programs: 1) The Physical Education Bicycle Unit that provides a one-week bike education and safety class; 2) The Earn-A-Bike Program which is an afterschool program that teaches students bike maintenance and bike safety, and upon completion, students may keep their bikes; or 3) The Bike Library Program where students “check out” a bike on a daily basis to get to and from school. In addition to the other educational opportunities, walking and biking to school days will be available.

Funding for this collaborative endeavor is provided by a Safe Routes to School grant from the Michigan Fitness Foundation.