Health in Our Hands-Flint/Genesee Partners hosted a two-day virtual health summit to highlight middle school community action projects aimed at reducing the risk of critical community health issues.
Flint, Michigan – February 01, 2021 – Even faced with a pandemic and online learning, students in Genesee County have had the opportunity to learn about their health in science class. Atherton Junior High School, Flint Holmes STEM Middle School Academy and Montrose Kuehn-Haven Middle School students presented their findings from community action projects and recommendations for ways to prevent or reduce substance use disorder and Type 2 diabetes. The virtual health summits, attended by approximately 300 students, teachers, school administrators, parents, and leaders and health experts from the community, occurred on January 13th and 20th via videoconference.
Students have been studying the biology of Type 2 diabetes and substance use disorder (SUD) in a science curriculum called, “Health in Our Hands” (HiOH). The curriculum connects the science classroom to the community to give youth and adults an understanding of modern concepts in genetics. Students investigate critical community health concerns and use these real-world contexts to appreciate the importance of both genetic and environmental factors in their risk for disease. For their final project, students conduct a community action research project to improve their school or neighborhood to help prevent or reduce disease. As part of their projects, students conducted interviews of family members, their peers, and experts from Serenity House of Flint and the CRIM Fitness Foundation as means of data collection.
Students who studied SUD at Atherton and Flint Holmes STEM Middle School examined the research question, “How do risk and protective factors affect substance use disorder among family members and peers and in my community?” During interviews with experts, students from Flint Holmes STEM Middle School discovered the impact of family influence on help-seeking behaviors of individuals suffering from SUD. One student explained, “When the interviewee said that she decided to stay sober because of her baby, that showed me no matter what, she was willing to go through years of rehab just for the sake of her child. That's some real dedication.” Students from Atherton focused on the effect of peers: "My main takeaways are that SUD is a disorder that can have multiple causes and effects. Some causes could be peer pressure, family issues, and even the victim’s own emotions. Based on this, I can infer that everyone who feels and thinks are [sic] at risk for SUD.”
Students from both schools concluded that because SUD behaviors often start in middle school, more youth activities and substance use support focused on that age group are needed in school and community settings. Reflecting on their experience, one student said, “I learned that science isn't only about energy but it also helps us by explaining why drugs are bad and you shouldn't use them.”
Students from Montrose Kuehn-Haven Middle School who studied Type 2 diabetes researched the question, “How does knowing about added sugar affect future food choices?” by investigating the effect on students’ attitudes about healthy food and school menu choices. Using health communication techniques, the students developed and shared a PSA (public service announcement) about added sugar with fellow students. Students have already seen the impact of their research, reporting, “We spoke with our school’s Food Supervisor and told her our concerns about the amount of sugar in our school breakfast. Our school breakfast now has less sugar and more fruit and is much healthier.”
Students at Flint Holmes STEM Middle School and Atherton Junior High explored healthier choices at home. They examined nutrition labels on food items and conducted a “Banana Smoothie Taste Test” to look for ways to reduce added sugar in their diets. Flint students recommended: “Look at nutritional labels, stay away from junk food, work out, serve healthier lunches containing fruits and vegetables at school, and have community-driven fruit and vegetable distributions similar to water distribution.” Atherton students concluded, “There are many ways that we eat sugars everyday without knowing and it is important to know what is in the foods we eat in order to stay healthy…. We can’t control our genetics but we can control what we put into our bodies to help prevent diseases, especially diabetes.”
The Virtual Health Summits were organized by the Health in Our Hands-Flint/Genesee Partnership, a coalition of community, health, and education organizations dedicated to achieving success and sustainability of Health In Our Hands in Flint and beyond. Coalition members include Community Based Organization Partners of Flint, Atherton Community Schools, CRIM Fitness Foundation, Flint Community Schools, Genesee Intermediate School District, Greater Flint Health Coalition, Health Alliance Plan, Michigan State University-Extension, and University of Michigan-Flint Discovering Place. Health in Our Hands is a project of CREATE for STEM Institute at Michigan State University funded by a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA), National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the National Institutes of Health.