Sixth Graders Use Science to Improve Community Health

Submitted by Renee Bayer on
Flint 6th Graders present community action projects to improve health
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On Tuesday, December 12, 2017, two hundred 6th graders from six Flint Community Schools gathered to share the results of their community action projects with their peers and community at the Riverfront Banquet Center. The students have been studying Type 2 diabetes in science class as part of a new curriculum called, “Health in Our Hands: What Controls My Health?”  Through their studies, students discover how genetic risk factors and environmental factors, such as poor diet or lack of exercise, put them at risk for disease.

For their final projects, students conducted an action research project to improve their school or neighborhood to help prevent or reduce diabetes. Students worked collaboratively to answer the question, “How can we work together to make our community healthier?”  Each class chose a different inquiry question to research and used a variety of data collection methods to draw conclusions and develop suggestions for community health improvement often collaborating with researchers to conduct cutting edge research. 

At Freeman School, Mrs. Savoie’s classes worked with Rick Sadler, professor of public health at Michigan State University (MSU), to answer their question, “How does my neighborhood affect my exercise and walking habits?” Students used GPS to track their movements to look for patterns in activity and discuss barriers to exercise. "We discovered that 55.45% of our students in Freeman don't want to walk because of stranger danger," said Timari Brown.

Several classes investigated strategies for healthy eating with MSU nutritionists Dr. Katherine Alaimo and Nick Drzal.  Mr. Sutton’s class at Durant-Tuuri-Mott measured processed and unprocessed food in their diets. Ms. Seelye’s class at Doyle-Ryder studied reasons for food waste in the cafeteria. Two classes at Potter, Mr. Lafferty’s and Mrs. Christian’s, investigated how marketing strategies can encourage healthier eating and less food waste in school. Similarly Mrs. McClendon’s class examined how raising awareness to the consequences of unhealthy foods affects students’ eating habits.

At the Final Presentations, students presented their results to their peers and to “judges” from university and community groups.  Judges commented about how knowledgeable, enthusiastic and well prepared the students were.  They were impressed with the variety of research projects and data collection methods leading to consistent messages about healthy eating and exercise. Students gathered to listen to Dr. Woody Neighbors from the College of Medicine at MSU who shared thoughts on careers in medicine, public health and research. The students were welcomed by Shawn Merriwether, Assistant Superintendent of Flint Community Schools.  They listened to a panel of their peers facilitated by Sharon Saddler from Community-Based Organization Partners of Flint. They also heard an original rap song composed and performed by Kesaan Bonner, a 6th grader from Mrs. Sparks class at Holmes STEM Academy. 

The event was covered by local television and print.  Local television abc12  highlighted the role of science in improving students’ schools and neighborhoods. The East Village Magazine described the promise of project-based learning for Flint students.

“Health in Our Hands: What Controls My Health” is a research project led by the CREATE for STEM Institute at Michigan State University in partnership with Flint Community Schools, the University of Michigan School of Public Health, Community-based Organization Partners of Flint, the Sloan Museum, the Flint Public Library, Concord Consortium in Massachusetts and multiple partners in Detroit.  The project is funded by the National Institutes of Health through their Science Education Partnership Awards (SEPA).