Zoom Culinary Classes Offered to PHS Schools in Farmington

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With the COVID-19 pandemic in full-swing, the Project Healthy School team created a weekly, after school virtual culinary class for Farmington middle school students throughout the month of April. The goal of the program was to provide some hands-on learning that reinforced the messages students learned from the PHS lessons. Each week, recipe ingredients and cooking tools for preparing a balanced, nutrient-dense meal were delivered to each of the participating schools. Cooking class demonstrations were filmed at the MHealthy Cooking Studio in Ann Arbor. Students had the option to join a live session and follow along with the instructors live, or they could watch a recording of the session through the Project Healthy Schools YouTube channel.


“We were happily surprised each week when the majority of the students registered for the class attended the live sessions,” said Ben Ransier, PHS Curriculum and Training Coordinator. “Of the 60 students who participated across the four Farmington middle schools, about 40 joined the live session each week to follow along, ask questions, and share some smiles.”


The live and recorded demonstrations were led by Ben Ransier with help from two program interns, Chloe Pawloski and Iraklis Vorias. Across the four classes, students prepared burritos, mango salsa with homemade tortilla chips, ratatouille pasta, falafel and tabbouleh. The classes were a huge success and PHS hopes to continue to reach students in a similar fashion moving forward. One parent summed it up best by saying, “Thank you for providing a medium for cooking healthy. I struggle to get my kid to eat veggies, but she actually ate the ratatouille today, vegetables and all!”
Check out recordings of the cook demonstrations by searching for Project Healthy Schools on YouTube, or clicking here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCc-iIGkKIZvijB4yDtnS6XA.

Project Healthy Schools Meets Its Giving Blueday Goals

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Giving Blueday 2021, the University of Michigan’s 24-hour celebration of giving, was a big success for Project Healthy Schools this year. The event was held on March 10th; this year, PHS was promised a match of up to $10,000 if at least 50 separate donors chose to give to the program. Supporters of PHS came through with 54 separate donations, securing over $11,900 total to support programming in middle schools across the state. 

To meet this goal, the PHS team worked hard to spread the word, asking friends, families, and contacts to help support the cause. Even in such challenging times, the generosity of PHS partners helped secure content to promote the program’s impact. Several school staffers from around the state as well as UM faculty recorded testimonials to use on the day, all of which can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOyfbjDdmFg&t=2s

Thank you to everyone who has supported PHS in the past and continues to support us as we move into this new “normalized” world. Children are our future, and we strive to continue providing the very best school environments and resources that cultivate an appreciation for healthy lifestyles. 

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; Jean DuRussel-Weston, PHS Manager; and Ben Ransier, PHS Curriculum and Training Coordinator. 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

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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

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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

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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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYVSSuMq67U&feature=youtu.be&t=257.

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.