The gym at Vista Charter Academy in Wyoming was buzzing with anticipation. Students at the school knew they were being rewarded for their hard work focusing on healthy habits over the past few months. They also knew a special guest would be part of the festivities, but had no idea who it could be. When Principal Heather Guerra announced Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was in the house, shrieks of excitement went up from the crowd.
Stafford’s message served to validate and further reinforce the importance of healthy changes students have been making as one of 117 schools across Michigan taking part in the Building Healthy Communities program, an evidence-based, comprehensive, school-wide initiative that supports children’s health. The program provides students, teachers and administrators with tools and resources to improve student health while creating a healthier school environment. It has reached over 180,000 students in more than 390 Michigan schools since its inception in 2009. “A healthy future is something we want for all of you guys,” Stafford told students. Since January, middle school students at the academy have been engaged in healthy challenges such as eating more fruits and vegetables, eating less sugary, fatty and fast foods, reducing screen time, and being more active every day. At the middle school level, students are ready to take a more active role in their health, said Shannon Carney Oleksyk, senior health care analyst at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Class challenges are a great way for them to stay motivated. “It’s a good kind of peer pressure,” she explained. Principal Guerra said she’s observed a new awareness about healthy habits among students and staff alike. Kids are asking smart questions about what they’re being served at lunchtime and working hard to incorporate more activity into their daily routine. “Developing those habits is something that needs to happen early,” Guerra said. Families are even making changes based on what their students are learning, said physical education teacher Stephanie Gillett, who teaches the BHC-approved curriculum to her middle school charges and filters the lessons down to the younger grades in the building. “They’re taking those messages home,” Gillett said. During the assembly, 8th-grader Josiah Lambert, 13, challenged Stafford to drop and do ten push-ups with him, which Stafford happily agreed to, much to the delight of his young fans. Lambert said he was impressed by how easygoing Stafford seemed and said he was impressed that an athlete of his caliber would own up to struggling to eat well, just like everyone else. “It was really cool,” he said of the assembly. Stafford said it’s important to him to use his celebrity to inspire healthy habits in the next generation. Being open and honest that it’s not always easy, even when you’re a professional athlete, can hopefully help kids set realistic and attainable goals. “I’m just like everybody else,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to make healthy choices.” The Building Healthy Communities program is supported by multiple statewide organizations, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Michigan Department of Education, the Michigan Fitness Foundation, University of Michigan, United Dairy Industry of Michigan, Wayne State University, Michigan State University Extension, Michigan Team Nutrition and Action for Healthy Kids, working together to teach kids healthy habits, address childhood obesity and transform the school environment. Read about seven healthy confessions Stafford shared with students during a question and answer session here. If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
- New Blue Cross Program to Help Michigan Students Get Healthy
- Healthy Schools the Key to a Healthier Generation
- Why Healthier Students Have Principal, Lt. Governor Dancing
Photo credit: A Healthier Michigan
Editor's note: Matthew Stafford is a paid spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.