Healthy schools the mission of UMHS-district partnership

Project Healthy Schools still strong after 6 years, Skyline High health students plan fundraiser benefit walk-run for May 21

By Casey Hans
AAPSNews Service

Walk it off. Run for fitness. Walk away the pounds. Get healthy. Have fun with family and friends.

Chicken fat at Slauson
Slauson Middle School Assistant Principal Douglas McIntyre, left, and Principal Chris Curtis dress up in chicken costumes, as promised, after classes participated in Chicken Fat activities as part of Project Healthy Schools. (photo courtesy, Project Healthy Schools)

All are messages Skyline High School Health and Medicine Magnet students are advocating as they aim to raise money for Project Healthy Schools, a University of Michigan Health System Cardiovascular Center initiative that targets sixth-graders in Ann Arbor and other districts with a healthy lifestyle message.

Skyline students will host a 5K/1M walk-run on May 21 starting at 9 a.m. at the high school, located off of North Maple Road just north of the M-14 interchange. Called “Ready, Set Fly,” a takeoff on the school’s nickname and mascot: The eagle.

“It can be a start to a better example and better living,” explained Kelsy Lee, a Skyline junior who is involved with organizing the walk-run.

“It’s a healthy hobby and a healthy lifestyle, added junior Madison Chadwick, another organizer. The walk-run is aiming to “fight the obesity epidemic. We’re looking at this as a project to aid with that. It’s about creating awareness,” she said.

Project Healthy Schools was launched at Clague Middle School in 2004 and has spread to 16 schools and more than 10,000 students in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Detroit, and Shiawassee County. This year, more than 1,300 Ann Arbor sixth-graders are taking part in the program.

With the help of PHS wellness coordinators from U-M and U-M student health ambassadors, the program’s basic concepts through a program of 10 hands-on activities. The concepts include:

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Make better beverage choices
  • Perform at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week
  • Eat less fast and fatty foods
  • Spent less mindless time in front of the TV and computer
Project Healthy Schools – Slauson
A group of Slauson Middle School sixth-graders jot down ideas during a Project Healthy Schools lesson.

Each school also has a Health Advisory Team that focuses on health throughout the building. PHS has a variety of structured programs and activities, works to promote wellness and good food choices and has a research component that has tracked some of the students and a variety of health risk markers including cholesterol, weight and glucose levels.

The program is the brainchild of Dr. Kim Eagle, director of the UMHS Cardiovascular Center. He is scheduled to present some of the program’s screening and research findings to the Ann Arbor Board of Education this spring.

Sara Aeschbach, director of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Community Education and Recreation Department, chairs the Wellness Policy Committee which oversees the district’s wellness initiatives. “This program has greatly enhanced the wellness efforts in our district,” she said. “It’s such a great program.”

She said this year, the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation bought PHS kits for each Ann Arbor middle school that help PHS staff and the health ambassadors teach classes. The AAPSEF donated $8,400 for the 12 kits needed to accomplish the program’s goals.

Aeschbach said PHS has led the district to get rid of candy and junk foods at lunch and eliminate sugared soda sales and has helped to increase the consumption of vegetables and fruits in the cafeteria settings.

She said as the district has become more comfortable with the PHS program and made it part of the day-to-day approach, she expects that individual schools will begin to take more ownership of it. Next year, seniors from the Skyline Health and Medicine Magnet program will begin volunteering as Health Ambassadors, similar to what is being done by U-M students this year. Jeff Bradley, lead teacher in the magnet, is looking forward to that, saying that the experience will add to students’ opportunities to learn and maybe new career paths for students.

At Slauson Middle School, teacher Lori McNutt is the school’s Wellness Champion and has been part of the school’s Health Advisory Team for the past four years. “I wanted to join, because it’s an interest of mine,” she said. “It’s a good example for others.”

Project Healthy Schools – Slauson
Project Healthy Schools health ambassador Ashley Hill, a junior public policy major at U-M, stresses the five PHS goals through some hands-on activities at Slauson Middle School.

McNutt said her school has cut out bake sales as fundraisers and that PHS has had a huge impact on the general approach to food and nutrition with its healthy message throughout the school. “Kids are trying to make better choices in the lunchroom,” she added.

During a recent Project Healthy Schools class at Slauson, health ambassador Ashley Hill, a junior public policy major at U-M, was stressing the five PHS goals through some hands-on activities. She also encouraged students to get up and get moving.

“When you’re doing video games or watching TV, what are you missing out on?” she asked students. “You’re not really hanging out with other people. You don’t get that face-to-face talk time. Research shows that it makes you feel better if you’re talking to them in person.”

Cathy Fitzgerald is a registered dietitian and wellness coordinator at Slauson and Forsythe middle schools for Project Healthy Schools.  She said that although the PHS goals are ones that most everyone can embrace, they target sixth-graders because it is a pivotal time for children in making healthy choices.

“We feel that habits they form now will stick with them through life,” she said. “This is a window of opportunity for us to teach them.”

For more about Project Healthy Schools, including tips on healthy eating, visit or call 734-975-3063.


‘Ready, Set, Fly’ walk-run is Saturday

ready-set-flyWhat: A 5K/1M walk-run to benefit Project Healthy Schools, sponsored by students in Skyline High School’s Health and Medicine Magnet program.
When: 9 a.m. Saturday, May 21 for the 5K event; 10:30 a.m. for the 1K portion.
Where: Skyline High School, 2552 N. Maple Road, just north of the M-14 interchange.
Registration: Run, walk, wheel or stroll at the event. Register online at, or at the event. On-site registration begins at 7:30 a.m. All registrants will receive an event T-shirt and shoes will be awarded to overall winners in the male and female categories. Age group awards will also be given.
Details: call 734-213-1033 or e-mail

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