Salina Elementary program promotes healthy lifestyle choices, combats childhood obesity

Photo by Sue Suchyta Students at Dearborn’s Salina Elementary School enjoy an active midday recess before heading to the cafeteria for lunch.

Photo by Sue Suchyta
Students at Dearborn’s Salina Elementary School enjoy an active midday recess before heading to the cafeteria for lunch.

By SUE SUCHYTA
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN – From brain breaks to nutrition news, Salina Elementary School is promoting healthy eating and physical activity as one of four local schools chosen this fall for the Building Healthy Communities expansion.

Sponsored through a partnership of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Wayne State University, BHC, a statewide program, offers a comprehensive approach that embeds healthy eating and physical activity into each school’s culture.

Principal Susan Stanley said that while applying for the BHC grant is easy, school administrators must go through an intensive interview process to show their willingness and ability to commit to the program.

Teachers at each grade level demonstrated their support for the program during the interview application process, which further demonstrated the school’s program-readiness.

She said the student body at Salina, 2700 Ferney, with 475 students in kindergarten through third grade, is unique in that it is frequently the first exposure to U.S. culture for its predominately Arabic immigrant population.

“We were fortunate enough to get selected,” Stanley said. “It’s a great opportunity. We have a great population of kids and parents that really see the opportunities that education can bring.

“We know that whatever we do and bring to them is really going to enrich their life, and also we know that we are going to get the parental support that we need in order to make all these things happen.”

She said BHC is a good opportunity for the staff to bring in health and nutrition lessons and to emphasize the importance of outdoor play for childhood brain development.

“That is something that no matter where you come from, that is a real problem across the whole United States,” Stanley said.

She said while there is a small parent component, most of the program is school-based.

“The great thing about this grant is not only is it providing resources for teachers on brain breaks for kids (and) the importance of physical activity,” Stanley said, “they model some nutrition lessons that are carried out in the classroom.”

Supported by a visiting WSU Healthy School coordinator, the six-step program engages each school’s principal as the first step, and has a strong supportive teacher and classroom component as part of the second step. Initial teacher training took place at WSU at the end of August.

Parent resources, tip sheets and take-home materials are also included in the second step.

Stanley said the school’s predominant culture offers a unique opportunity to emphasize the importance of healthy food choices.

“Fast food is not something that our kids have a lot of,” Stanley said. “There is a lot of home cooking going on. Middle Eastern food is just so healthy – it is a healthy diet.

“When they come here, and then there is MacDonald’s down the street, and there’s Burger King and everybody else, there is that tendency to want to overindulge in it. And it becomes more than a treat — it becomes dinner.”

Stanley said if they educate children at an early age about the importance of good diet and health, it reinforces the importance of the healthy food choices they have available at home.

The third and fourth program steps provide new equipment for both physical education classes and recess play, as well as Exemplary Physical Education Curriculum training for staff. EPEC promotes physical activity.

Physical education teacher Scott Hummell said the grant provides Salina with a generous amount of equipment for both physical education classes and outdoor recess.

“The kids really win,” Hummell said. “Every day at lunch they will come storming into the gym asking where the (mobile physical equipment) cart is, and they just have these huge smiles. You go out there (to the playground) and there are six footballs, and six basketballs, and soccer balls, and playground balls, and they love it. They really win.”

He said girls and some boys enjoy using the jump ropes.

The fifth step, a mentored teacher-selected student leadership team, supports the BHC transformation, which includes a school-wide kickoff assembly. Salina’s team has eight third-grade students.

“What’s really great about the student leadership team is the students get the chance to decide what they think the school could use to be healthier,” said Annie Leither, WSU Healthy School coordinator.

With the coordinator’s help, student teams use Fuel Up to Play 60 for guidance support and additional funding.

Encouraging healthy eating and 60 minutes of play a day to stay active and have fun, Fuel Up to Play 60 sponsorship and funding comes from the United Dairy Industry of Michigan through the National Dairy Council, and the National Football League.

For more information, go to fueluptoplay60.com.

The support component helps build the student team’s leadership skills to change the school’s culture and environment to sustain the healthy changes, and provide structure.

“I love the fact that there are kids becoming leaders,” Hummell said. “Every time I have a class, I have leaders that go up and lead the activities. Too often nowadays too many kids are followers. The kids that are doing this are just doing an awesome job.”

The sixth step, an afterschool Healthy Kids Club, also encourages healthy eating and physical activities for children by providing new or enhancing existing afterschool programs with funding for healthy snacks, a stipend to pay for an adult advisor upon program completion, and support for afterschool walking and running sessions in a fun, non-competitive environment.

Hummell said initially 140 students have returned the parent permission slip to join an hour-long club on Wednesdays that includes a 30-minute track walk and run component, a non-competitive fun game, and a healthy snack.

Leither, who coordinates for eight schools, including Salina, said the idea of the program is to embed physical activity and nutrition in every aspect of the elementary school environment. She said her goal is to provide the support and training to make the program sustainable.

“There’s just a lot of different ways that we see that you can bring nutrition and physical activity and health into the environment through every little aspect,” Leither said. “The idea is at the end of the year the teachers and everyone will have all the tools that they need to keep it going throughout the years to come.”

For more information on the program, go to bcbsm.com/buildhealth and coe.wayne.ecu/CenterForSchoolHealth/Programs.php.

“It’s a lifestyle change, and one of the things that they stress is that it has to be enjoyable,” Stanley said. “The key to a healthy lifestyle is enjoying a physical activity, finding a physical activity that you enjoy, and making it part of your lifestyle. They are so on track, starting it early with our kids, to promote this kind of healthy lifestyle.”