Whole Nutrition, Whole Child


Why do healthy food and education go hand-in-hand for children? What are organizations in Michigan doing to make sure kids have access? Jeff and Diane Golzynski from MDE, talk about their partnership to make a difference across the state.

January 7, 2019

Kids play tug of war.

Whole Nutrition, Whole Child Transcript

golzyski-headshotJeff Dwyer: Nearly 10 million people live in Michigan, and 1.6 million of them are between the ages of five and 18. When we think about the numbers of school age kids and all of the families they're a part of, we get excited about all of the opportunities to make a difference in their lives, in the areas of health and nutrition. But we can't do it alone, and we know that we're more effective when we work with partners like the Michigan Department of Education. I'm Jeff Dwyer, director of MSU Extension. My guest and partnerships in Peninsulas today is Diane Golzynski, Michigan Department of Education's director of health and nutrition services. Thank you for joining us Diane.

Diane Golzynski: Thank you for having me.

Dwyer: So Diane, when we think about the Department of Education, I think most of us think about classrooms and academics and that sort of thing. But you work in health and nutrition. How is that part of education?

Golzynski: Actually, feeding the kids is an educational issue. So we focus on making sure that the kids have access to good, high quality, healthy meals at school, so that they can be the best learners they can possibly be.

Dwyer: So what does the research tell us about, for example, the importance of a healthy breakfast and how that impacts school age kids and their ability to learn and perhaps even their behavior?

Golzynski: Kids are better with breakfast. Kids who eat breakfast at school are better learners. We know through the research that the closer the kids take the test to when they actually eat breakfast, the better that they do. And we'll hear principals every now and then send notes home to the parents. Don't forget to feed your kids breakfast because tomorrow is testing day. Well, we need to be making sure that we're feeding them breakfast every day so that they can be the best learners they can possibly be and be prepped for those tests when those tests come.

Dwyer: Well, Diane, you and I just met a few months ago, but we've become fast friends. Our organizations have worked together for many years. Tell us a little bit about how that started perhaps and the things that we've been doing together.

Golzynski: Well, I started working with Extension back in the late nineties when team nutrition came about. So there was a USDA initiative called team nutrition, which is around nutrition education, and then the department started partnering with MSU Extension around team nutrition. Since then, our partnership has grown to other avenues within schools, whether it be working with school health teams and promoting the healthy schools' action tool, or whether it be nutrition education in afterschool programs, separate programs, summer programs. It's been a great partnership with the educators who are in the counties and able to really connect the work that we do at the local level.

Dwyer: Well, we certainly appreciate the opportunity to work with you and your team and we're looking to forward to many more creative opportunities. So you just mentioned supper programs. So one of the things I've become more aware of as I've gotten to know you, and as I've gotten to know the work of your team, is that you don't just focus on health and nutrition during the school hours. Talk a little bit about that.

Golzynski: Right. So at the Department of Education, we actually run all of the nutrition programs from USDA other than wic and snap. So we have school lunch, school breakfast, supper, childcare, meals, summer meals, and all of the USDA commodity programs for schools, and for seniors, and for emergency assistance for families. We're really about feeding the whole child the whole year and assuring that children don't have to worry about that chronic stress of hunger and where their next meal is. So we just want to be that support for those children.

Dwyer: That's fantastic. I know for over 15 years the Michigan Department of Education has supported MSU Extension in a number of ways on the health and nutrition front. And you've helped us secure funding for salaries and curriculum development and for program specific mini grants that have been offered to schools and daycare providers that we both work with. We've also received support to address emerging needs such as the Flint water crisis. Can you tell us about our partnerships in Flint and the impacts that it's had over the last three years?

Golzynski: Sure. So, while Flint was a horrible crisis that our residents had to live through, the department feels that we were very blessed to have the partnership with MSU Extension because MSU Extension was in the community. They know and understand the community, and you all were really able to scale up quickly. So when we were able to secure some funding to support those families in knowing which foods helped them reduce their chance of absorbing lead from the water, MSU Extension was the community partner who was there and ready to do that. We looked at everything from how water absorbed into the soil and the plants and the food that was growing, to how the farmer's market and how we could educate residents around the farmer's market and what healthy products they could get all the way to the backpack education that happened at school. So we were able to really surround that community with some good resources because of our partnerships.

Dwyer: Well, and your description of that is a tremendous reminder to us and to all of our listeners that neither one of us, or not even both of us together do this without lots of other partners. And just in those few sentences, you referred in different ways indirectly and directly to Dr Mona and her pediatrics clinic to the farmer's market. The East Michigan Food Bank was instrumental to both of the programs, many of the programs that we participated in and an edible Flint and so many others. I think residents in the state of Michigan should be proud of the fact that there are so many strong organizations and that their history is based on working together in the realization that no one organization does this alone. So tell us about some of the new and exciting programs that you're just launching or maybe even just thinking about and are figuring out how to launch.

Golzynski: Sure. So at the Department of Education, we have a vision of becoming a top 10 education state in 10 years. And we know there's no way we can do that without our partners like MSU Extension and others. We have three priority areas. One is literacy, one is prenatal through age eight, and one is the whole child. All three of those areas have roots within partnerships like MSU Extension. We know that MSU Extension with those who you have in the community and the experts that you have on staff can help us with all three of those target areas. And then, as we pull other partners to the table and we determine exactly how we're going to put those three priorities areas into play. Then we can roll that out to the districts and help all of our districts to support the kids. We really want Michigan to be the best place that we can raise kids.

Dwyer: Well, that's a tremendous goal and we're excited to be working with you toward that goal. I think that it's important for folks to know that in the 2016, 2017 programming year, the Michigan Department of Education provided mini grants to more than 80 schools and childcare sites to support MSU Extension community health training. I think some of your larger programs probably eventually emerged from those mini grants. Will you tell us about one of those programs and why you think that's so important?

Golzynski: Those mini grants really happened through our partnership with Team Nutrition, Michigan Team Nutrition. And that is a wonderful way for the experts in nutrition and nutrition education to come together and support the schools. So we know that through that partnership, the MSU Extension educators were able to get into a couple of very specific schools that needed assistance. They were able to get into the schools and really provide the technical assistance and expertise needed to help that school move forward on their health goals.

Dwyer: Well, it's a fantastic program in and if I'm a parent listening or a parent of school age children listening and I want to see this program or something like it in my school, what can I do? Who can I reach out to?

Golzynski: I would talk to your school food service director, your principal or another administrator, even a teacher who's really interested and understands the role nutrition plays in learning. Also, call your local Extension office and make sure that you're connecting with the educators who are there, because they know exactly how to do this work and get into the schools and make those connections with you.

Dwyer: That's great advice. We certainly have great people all over the state working in this area of education, health and nutrition and we're fortunate to be able to support them through the work that we do. So one of the things, Diane, that I've come to appreciate in my role as the director of MSU Extension, especially as it relates to school age youth, is that it's imperative that we have multiple partnerships in order to address all children who may need our services. The reference I often think about is that when I was in elementary school, junior high school and high school, the vast majority of kids went to public schools. And so if someone wanted to deliver a program, or an intervention or something, you could pretty much be assured that if you targeted it to public school systems you could capture most kids.

Well today, that's not so true and in fact, you and I are familiar with some urban areas and this is true around the country where maybe half or even slightly less than half of the school age kids go to the public school system. They may go to excellent private schools, or charter schools. They may go elsewhere to school, they may be homeschooled. So I think 4-H plays a role there too. As a nontraditional educational program where we deliver everything from stem programming, to health related programming. Can you talk a little bit about how 4-H and its reach to school age children really aligns with what you're trying to accomplish at the Michigan Department of Education?

Golzynski: Absolutely. So we know through the research that children who feel connected to their school, connected to adults who care about them and really have an opportunity to express that through the work that they do, through the learning opportunities that they have, have a better chance of finding that career that they love and really playing that out as an adult. So the 4-H programs really allow those kids to have that outlet, and that opportunity to get connected to an adult, get connected to people who care and who can demonstrate to them things that they may never have known existed. These kids have a chance even just outside of the educational setting, in all different kinds of settings in their communities, where they can have that connection and practice that learning in a way that helps them apply that to what they might want to become as adults.

Dwyer: Well, that's a great description. I think I'm going to take you on the road with me and be an ambassador for how we all work together on this. So, one of the times you and I spent together recently was at Ford field.

Golzynski: Yes.

Dwyer: For Fuel Up to Play 60. Talk a little bit about that because I think that even broadens the understanding of the partnerships and the organizations that make all of this work happen.

Golzynski: Absolutely. We have a wonderful partnership with United Dairy Industry of Michigan who helps to run the Fuel Up to Play 60 program, which has a partnership with the NFL around getting kids to be active and eating healthy for best learning and best brain activity. So we do this event at Ford Field where we bring in busloads of kids from schools, and they have a chance to learn a little bit about healthy food, but then also why do they need to be active? And what does it mean to be active for 60 minutes a day? And partners like Extension, and school health coordinators, and teachers, and others from around the state come together and then we take the kids out onto the football field, and they get a chance to work with the Lions’ trainers.

They come out of the tunnel before they get to the football field, as if they were one of the teams and they get to have that experience. We have had schools come to that event who, the kids have never left the upper Peninsula, or never left their hometown, and never been anywhere near Ford Field. So it's a great opportunity for them to come in. We feed them healthy food, we're making sure that they're active for 60 minutes while they're there, they're having a great time and then we can show how we all work together. We had USDA there this year as well as MSU Extension, our department, the Department of Health and Human Services, all led by United Dairy Industry of Michigan partners.

Dwyer: Well, I've had the opportunity to join in for that day each of the last two years and I don't care what age you are, it's pretty exciting to run out on that field and get a chance to meet some current and former players. And really the training staff from the Lions are the ones who put the kids through the training regimen. And it really was a very exciting day, and really such a great example of the partnerships that help make good health and nutrition in schools and in academic settings, happen in the State of Michigan. This is Partnerships and Peninsulas. My name is Jeff Dwyer. I have the privilege of being the director of Michigan State University Extension. My guest today has been Diane Golzynski. Thank you very much for being here today.

Golzynski: Thank you for having me.