Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Schools chief proposes incentive for early graduation

Capital News Service

LANSING — Some education officials want to give incentives that follow early high school graduates to higher education institutions.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels proposed the idea, and Michael Flanagan, superintendent of public instruction for the Michigan Department of Education, said he wants the state to do something similar.

“I believe it’s about half of the kids that could complete high school within three years,” he said. “Students could get a head start on college, and some of that money could go with them.”

Flanagan said it would benefit students to be educated at their own pace, meaning some could graduate in three years by taking online or summer classes. Such a program could also enable students to use the aid that otherwise would have gone to their school district at a college or community college.

Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, said he likes the concept.

“I don’t see any adverse issues with the community colleges,” he said.

Hansen said on average it costs about $7,500 per student for one year of high school. That would pay for up to three years of tuition at a community college.

But he said a more sensible approach would be to cut that amount in half and allow students to use it.

Hansen’s worry, however, is that a shift in funds would take away money that public schools need.

“Our goal would not to be to try to negatively impact the K-12 community,” said Hansen.

Deedee Starkley, director of early college at Lake Michigan College (LMC) in Benton Harbor, said such an intitiative would give better opportunities to students to seek education after high school.

“The drawback for some students is that they don’t have the financial resources” to pay for higher learning, said Starkley.

Flanagan said if Michigan were to adopt an incentive-based graduation policy, it could finance up to a year of a student’s college education.

He also said that students learn at different paces, and the policy would also encourage a merit-based rather than a time-based education system.

Jan Ellis of the communications office at the Education Department said legislation has not yet been proposed to put such a system in place, but high schools are currently doing other things to speed up graduation.

For example, high school students can participate in middle college and dual enrollment programs. Middle college are 5-year schools for high schoolers on college campuses that allow students to graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree. Dual enrollment allows students to take college classes while attending high school.

A high school pays for those students’ college credit and tuition.

Starkley said she favors legislation that would allow high school students to graduate at their own pace and channel the money to pay for their higher education.

“The more opportunities they have, the more apt a student is to continue on and pursue post-secondary education when they leave high school,” she said.

LMC allows 32 high schools to participate in its dual enrollment opportunities and has the largest early learning high school program in Michigan, she said.

LMC has 970 high school students earning college credits this semester.

Starkley said one or two dual enrollment students graduate from high school with an LMC associate’s degree in hand every couple of years.

From 2007-08 to 2008-09, dual enrollment participation rose by a little more than 1 percent statewide. About 7 percent of eligible students participated in dual enrollment last year, Ellis said.

Ellen Hasse, business manager of Berrien Springs Public Schools, said the district would favor such legislation, and almost half its senior class is currently enrolled at LMC.

The district plans to implement a system in which students could graduate early or late if they chose.

Another benefit in allowing high schoolers to graduate early, Starkley said, is that some students who are less successful in the classroom are more interested in college courses. A hands-on curriculum that may not be offered in high schools, like welding and mechanics, gives those who want different career pathways more push to pursue higher learning.

“They’re told they’re not college material,” she said. “Suddenly, that light bulb goes off and they’re acting like college students.”

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.



Filed under: Education

Shoppers challenged to head downtown

Capital News Service

LANSING – With the start of the holiday season, small businesses across the state are coming together to get their piece of the holiday spending pie.

Holiday spending “continues to be a really crucial part of making a profit for the entire year,” said Michael Rogers, vice president of communication for the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM).

Tom Scott, vice president of communications for the Michigan Retailers Association, said, “Industry-wide, it probably accounts for about 20 percent of sales for the year.”

For retailers that sell merchandise such as toys, games and gifts, that percentage could be as high as 40 percent, Scott said.

That’s why SBAM, Michigan Municipal League, Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) and downtowns are participating in a program called the “ShopMIDowntown Holiday Challenge,” Rogers said.

The program encourages shoppers to do 75 percent of their holiday gift shopping in their own downtowns rather than in big stores, malls or online, he said.

The idea came from Sparta, which challenged its residents to do all their holiday shopping there this season, said Joe Borgstrom, director of the STARS revitalization division of MSHDA.

“Eighty-five to 95 percent of downtown businesses are independently and locally owned,” Borgstrom said. “We’re hoping to raise their awareness.”

Shoppers who post a picture or video of themselves shopping at downtown businesses are automatically entered into a drawing for a free overnight stay at one of five Main Street establishments, MSHDA said. Participants are the Doherty Hotel in Clare, Ramsdell Inn in Manistee, National House Inn in Marshall, Water Street Inn in Boyne City and Courtland Carriage House Bed & Breakfast in Hart.

The challenge lasts until Dec. 31, Borgstrom said. So far, it has 784 fans on Facebook, and 83 photos were submitted as of Nov. 22.

“We’re huge fans of downtown,” said John Hankerd, chair of the Owosso Main Street Board and a small business owner himself. “We try to shop locally.

“We understand you can’t find everything downtown, but we try to do that first,” he said.

Holiday spending can make or break some downtown businesses, Hankerd said. Some merchants have already gotten comments about the challenge, but a lack of awareness about the program has impaired shopper participation.

That’s why Hankerd’s business printed shirts for downtown merchants, he said.

SBAM’s Rogers said, “Shoppers are looking for interesting and rewarding holiday experiences. You don’t get that online at Amazon or fighting the crowds.

“What we’re hearing from small businesses across the state is that they are cautiously optimistic about this holiday season,” Rogers added.

Businesses are working together to provide decorating, advertising and billboards to raise awareness, he said. They want people to remember that there are a lot of local stores.

Owosso’s Hankerd said about 50 businesses downtown wired the Christmas lights on their storefronts together for a nightly light show. Stores stay open later to draw people who come to see the show, he added.

“They’re all very optimistic,” Hankerd said. “They’re expecting to be up 10 percent from last year.”

The Retailers’ Tom Scott said “Fifty-eight percent expect a better holiday season than last year.”

Averaged among all retailers’ projections, sales should increase about 6 percent this season, Scott said.

“We haven’t seen a number like that since 2004,” he said.

A strong holiday season also means more revenue for the state from sales tax, said Terry Stanton, public information officer for the Department of Treasury.

“We always go into a holiday season looking for strong results,” he said.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.



Filed under: Economy

Carbon monoxide still claims lives in Michigan


Capital News Service

LANSING—Carbon monoxide was the second most-frequent hazardous substance that injured Michigan residents in 2008, the Department of Community Health (DCH) said.

In 2008, 35 people died from carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the DCH.  In 2006 it was 48 and in 2005 it was 38, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

CO poisoning causes 400 deaths a year in the U.S., according to the CDC.

Symptoms include fatigue, headache, nausea, shortness of breath and dizziness.

Walt Maner, a consultant to the Michigan Plumbing and Mechanical Contractors Association, said, “The recent drops in CO poisoning deaths could be that products are getting better” at detecting CO.

“I don’t know if people are maintaining their furnaces better than they used to but I think technology has something to do with it,” he said.

Anything that burns fuels can cause CO poisoning, said Jon Paradine, a senior mechanical inspector in the mechanical division of the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth.

Maner said,“If natural gas doesn’t burn efficiently, anything that burns carbon monoxide can leak.”

Paradine said, “There is no code to get a furnace checked every year. Manufacturers suggest furnaces be inspected but there is no requirement whatsoever to maintain them.”

Jennifer Kosak, senior environmental health specialist with the Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department, has been trying to put together a stronger program to educate and protect the public.

She said her department is seeking grants to address CO problems in local homes.  That would include providing detectors and equipment.

“CO affects people differently, and some of it may be due to better testing of blood levels,” said Kosak. “Now we can detect CO to such low limits, but what’s harmful and what’s not?”

Michael Krecek, director and health officer of the Midland County Public Health Department, said, his office works with local building inspectors to educate people to be more aware of CO, making sure places like day care centers and restaurants are properly ventilated.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Uncategorized

Culinary tourists savor Michigan foods, wines

Capital News Service

LANSING – Miles of coastline, beautiful beaches and spectacular sand dunes. But traveling in Michigan offers more than that.

The state’s wines and beers, fresh fruits, fish and other local flavors are attracting visitors as well.

“Culinary tourism is an exciting new area of economic development for Michigan,” said Linda Jones, executive director of the Michigan Grape and Wine Council.

On Jan. 10, a diverse range of businesses and organizations will celebrate their culinary assets and share ideas to promote culinary tourism at a statewide conference.

Jones said other states promote their culinary assets more aggressively than Michigan, such as Oregon, New York and California.

Culinary tourism includes cooking classes, foodie tours, events and festivals.

The Michigan Culinary Tourism Alliance is one initiative boosting local industry.

Dave Lorenz, manager of public and industry relations at Travel Michigan, said quality food is part of the traveling experiences people look for.

Michigan’s diverse agriculture, hunting and fishing provide fresh foods, which creates this experience, Lorenz said. His office is the state’s official tourism promotion agency.

For example, Culinary Escapes, a Detroit-based company, offers walking tours to restaurants, markets and local food purveyors in downtown Birmingham, Detroit and Royal Oak from April through October.

Learn Great Foods in Petoskey offers themed retreats, tours and cooking classes. One is Maple Madness Weekend on the Parsons Centennial Farm in Charlevoix, where participants learn how to make maple syrup.

Karel Bush, promotion specialist at Grape and Wine Council, said Michigan’s 75 wineries also are travel destinations where people enjoy lush green valleys and savor award-winning wines.

Bush said there are wine routes along the coasts, such as the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail, the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula and the Southeast Michigan Pioneer Wine. Another is the Sunrise Side Wine and Hops Trail along Lake Huron.

Experts said great dining and learning experiences attract more tourists and extend their travel time in the communities.

Lorenz said: “They go out there and spend money that help retain and build jobs.”

Jones said culinary tourism benefits the whole state, particularly areas with major visitor attractions.

Diane Dakins, assistant director of the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau, said the number of tourists in her region has increased because of the development of food-related businesses.

The bureau serves Petoskey, Harbor Springs and Boyne City, which are well-known for wines, whitefish and morel mushrooms.

For example, people pick mushrooms in the woods and learn how to cook them, Dakins said.

“Farms and farmers’ markets create jobs and also are a stop for tourists,” Dakins said.

Cooking classes in restaurants and hotels have attracted many customers, Lorenz said. For example, Zazios in Kalamazoo has a Chefs Table, where customers learn from a chef how to make food and then eat it.

Andy Deloney, vice president of public affairs at the Michigan Restaurant Association said developing culinary tourism is particularly important to the hospitality industry.

Deloney said many people have a misconception that they must go to New York, San Francisco or Chicago for both great travel and dinning experiences.

“In Michigan we have lots of fantastic restaurants, too,” he said.

Deloney said the conference will increase awareness of Michigan’s dining destinations and build connections among businesses.

The Creating Michigan Culinary Destinations conference in East Lansing is being organized by the Culinary Tourism Alliance in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, Travel Michigan and the Restaurant Association.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Uncategorized

Chickenpox outbreaks continue despite overall drop

Capital News Service

LANSING—Chickenpox cases are declining in Michigan, but outbreaks still occur in schools and classrooms despite unprecedented use of vaccines.

There were 5,239 cases reported in 2006, dropping to 1,887 in 2009. So far this year, there have been 1,285, according to the Michigan Disease Surveillance System.

Delta and Berrien counties were among those with the most cases so far this year, Delta with 46 and Berrien with 47. Other counties with many cases include Oakland with 137, Genesee with 106, Macomb with 76, Kent with 54 and Monroe and Saginaw with 48 each.

Nicki Britten, an epidemiologist with the Berrien County Health Department, said the decrease is due to a state guideline for getting a booster shot at around the age of 11.

In some communities in Berrien County, “there is situation where parents don’t want their children to get the vaccines,” Britten said.

“We’ve had a couple of clusters of outbreaks in schools and in classrooms with students who had one vaccine shot but not the second,” said Britten. “With the students who had the vaccine, their case was much milder than those who had none. They had 15 poxes instead of 200 with the unvaccinated students.

“I’m assuming higher vaccination rates for the statewide declining chickenpox cases,” Britten said.

In Delta County, chickenpox outbreaks might have occurred because of exposure at sporting events.

Jenny Miller, immunization and communicable disease coordinator at Public Health of Delta and Menominee Counties, said “I don’t know where it originated from but maybe from an elementary school or a wrestling team where they came into contact with another school’s student who might have been infected.”

Miller said children who didn’t follow up on their booster shots may have contributed to more  cases in Delta County.

“In some cases, kids who had two vaccines still broke out. The chickenpox rash was verified by school nurses. With vaccines, some kids get the first one but never follow up on the second,” said Miller.

Miller also blamed waning immune systems for vaccines not protecting children to the fullest. “There’s so many kids in close proximity and with different sporting teams and unprotected kids, it can spread quite a bit.”

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.



Filed under: Uncategorized

Most lame duck bills quack and die

Capital News Service

LANSING – The phrase ‘lame duck’ was originally used to depict the lack of power and influence of bankrupt businesspeople in the 18th century.

It describes the same characteristics in legislative sessions today, which raises questions about why senators and representatives still bother to introduce legislation during this largely ineffective post-election period.

“Hope springs eternal,” said Jack Holmes, a professor of political science at Hope College. “If it’s fairly routine and noncontroversial, it may have a better shot in lame duck than it does when some fundamental changes are being made in Michigan government in January.”

That’s the reason Rep. John Walsh, R-Livonia, said he introduced a bill that would allow NASCAR race sites to apply for a single liquor license covering all the venues that sell alcohol.

Currently, each venue must apply for a separate license, although the same company owns and operates all of them.

“It’s noncontroversial. We just weren’t able to find a bill to add it to earlier,” Walsh said. “We all know it needs to be done. Now we have the time to do it, so why not do it?”

Walsh unsuccessfully tried to add the measure to a package of bills regarding liquor control passed earlier this month.

He predicted the new bill will make its way to the governor’s desk before the end of the year since the Senate already passed one version.

Walsh added that although he was re-elected, he chose not to wait until next year because there will be more important issues to discuss then.

“Bills like this can be introduced, but I’ve got to be spending my time on things like the budget, tax issues and regulatory reform in the new year,” Walsh said. “So let’s do the small stuff now.”

Not all legislation introduced in the lame duck period is likely to pass, however.

Sen. Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, recently introduced the “Hunting Heritage” bill that would eliminate the minimum hunting age and provide training to educate parents and their children on safe hunting practices.

Two years ago, the minimum hunting age for firearm deer season dropped from 14 to 12.

Richardville acknowledged he doesn’t expect the latest bill to pass.

“I think that it will require more attention and public commentary,” Richardville said. “My guess about what’s going to happen is that it will bring people’s attention, and it will be reintroduced next session.”

Sen. Judson Gilbert, R-Algonac, also predicted that his recently introduced legislation won’t pass this year. It would transfer leftover sales tax revenue from aviation fuel and products to the state aeronautics fund.

“We need a lot of infrastructural work on airports,” Gilbert said. “But the reality is there’s no chance that this is going to be passed because there’s not enough time to get it through this year.”

Gilbert won’t return to the Senate in January since he is term-limited, but said he’d been approached during the election break and asked to introduce the proposal.

“Hopefully it will create some discussion because a lot of legislators aren’t quite aware of the problem,” Gilbert said.

During this lame duck period, legislators have also introduced bills such as the “Puppy Protection Act” by Rep. Fred Miller, D-Mount Clemens, which would regulate treatment of dogs at large breeding kennels, and a bill by Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, that would eliminate Michigan’s film incentives. Both are term-limited and couldn’t seek re-election this month.

Hope’s Holmes, said introducing bills during the lame duck period without expecting them to pass is common, and agreements that wouldn’t happen during normal sessions may happen during lame duck periods.

“Sometimes they’re just trying to make a point,” Holmes said, “but sometimes there’s a compromise that wouldn’t happen regularly. There’s so much to be done – the incoming governor has got to make some very critical and difficult decisions, and legislators might feel they might not have as much attention to these noncritical things during that time.”

Walsh, of Livonia, agreed that the Legislature will shift its focus on Jan. 1 when Republicans control the House, Senate and governorship.

“My intention in January, and I think this is the intention of all of us that have been elected, is that we have serious work to do, and we need to get to it immediately,” Walsh said.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Politics

Community college part of national `green jobs’ initiative

Capital News Service

LANSING — Green roofs, solar panels and a native plant garden are among the green initiatives Grand Rapids Community College and Wilbur Wright College in Chicago are taking to become more efficient and environmentally friendly.

Related changes are happening in classrooms too, with curriculums redesigned to provide green job training.

Building on the efforts of these and other community colleges, the organizations Jobs for the Future and the National Wildlife Federation in Washington have created the Greenforce Initiative, a two-year drive to develop and enhance “green job” pathways and programs in six regions of the nation.

The objective is to support green job programs with funding and communication networks for participating schools.

Career programs are at the core of the effort. They target lower-skilled adults and non-traditional students, teaching them skills needed to get green jobs, said Gloria Mwase, the program’s director.

For many community colleges, the mission starts with greening their own campuses.

“For example, some might put up a wind turbine and do wind training on campus, said Juliana Goodlaw-Morris, who works in Michigan with the National Wildlife Federation and as Greenforce campus field manager for Illinois and Michigan. “Others might have to access something outside of campus to make it work. Everyone is taking a different focus.”

At Grand Rapids Community College, culinary students have a green roof.

Students there can also earn a windmill safety certificate for windmill technicians and participate in a green remodeling program. A few years ago, its Habitat for Humanity program joined a pilot program to build LEED-certified homes.

Now, every home built is LEED-certified, meaning it meets the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system standards for environmentally sustainable design, construction and operation.

The student congress and sustainability council have signed a resolution to ban bottled water on campus, and student groups held bottled water taste tests to debunk the myth that tap water is bad-tasting and poor in quality.

“I really believe it’s the students who are leading us in this direction,” said Moss Ingram, the director of sustainability and associate director of innovation at the college. “I’m very proud of this, and that we’re listening to the students, asking for their input.”

Funded by the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, the Greenforce Initiative is planned for North Carolina, Seattle, northern Virginia and southern Texas. Michigan and metropolitan Chicago are the only Great Lakes regions included.

The regions were chosen for their access to community college campuses interested in or already working on ways to offer green job training and promote campus greening.

Mwase said, “We wanted to be sure that we weren’t encouraging colleges to train participants for jobs that do not exist,” she said.

Michigan is an ideal participant, she said, because its unemployment rate is among the highest in the country. Also, the Michigan Green Jobs Report for 2009 tallied 109,067 total green jobs available in the state, a number that is expected to rise because of emerging opportunities in the private sector.

In Michigan, the Greenforce Initiative is also funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. The program collaborates with the Michigan Community College Association and its Alternative Energy Consortium and Breaking through Network.

Goodlaw-Morris said, “The program is really going to be focused on each campus networking and using best practice sharing — creating a community and cohort of schools that can come together.”

Blogs, Twitter, webinars, conference calls and face-to-face meetings will be used for networking.

For now, Greenforce Initiative has funding for only two years, but Mwase said the impacts are expected to last much longer.

Mwase said, “We hope that lessons learned from this initiative will become infused in the college and change the way the institution itself approaches the engagement of and support for lower-skilled adults.”

Liz Pacheco writes for Great Lakes Echo.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Education

Students’ reasons vary for leaving community colleges

Capital News Service

LANSING— Community college graduation rates are low because many students leave before finding a degree, although experts disagree on whether to consider them dropouts.

The non-completion rate is important because it shows that some students may not have an interest in finishing or can’t finish for a variety of reasons, said Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association.

For community colleges, there is no clear definition of what dropout means, Hansen said.

Hansen said, “Dropouts are hard to explain. Reasons vary as to why students leave college.”

Community colleges shouldn’t be held responsible for those who don’t want to graduate, he said.

Charlie MacInnis, public relations director at North Central Michigan College in Petoskey, said, “Many of the reasons are family-related or financially related. Many people lose their jobs and don’t have the money.

“Others have trouble finding a day care center for their children. Others also may have to end up taking care of a sick family member,” he said.

MacInnis said there has been a small increase in the dropout rate since 2009 but percentages don’t mean a lot because students leave for different reasons.

Max Lindsay, dean of student affairs at Alpena Community College, said, “We interview people who withdraw from college and get a reason why they choose to leave.”

Alpena has a 20 percent unemployment rate, and many students will leave to get a job in the state or out of state, he said.

Hansen said 25 percent of people who enroll in community college want to get a degree.

Hansen said others take classes and then transfer to a four-year institution. In that situation, students get what they want and move on.

Others may come to college part-time because they have a job or take care of their children during the day, Hansen said.

In 2009, 12 percent of students at North Central Michigan College dropped one or more classes, MacInnis said.

MacInnis said some students drop classes during one semester and then come back and take the same class the next semester. It’s unclear why they do that, he said.

MacInnis said some students leave because the workload may be too much for them to handle.

The college helps students stay in school, he said, adding that many community college students require more attention than those attending a four-year university.

MacInnis said that his college encourages students to talk to advisors before and after they start classes. Also the college offers a “Student Success Course,” which assists them in understanding how to be a college student.

Its Early Alert program lets students know by letter or e-mail that they are at risk of failing a class. It also lets them know about the availability of tutoring, MacInnis said.

MacInnis said students who leave community college and transfer to a four-year university can’t be considered dropouts because they accomplish what they want to accomplish.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Education

More college students staying for sophomore year


Capital News Service

LANSING – More students in Michigan public universities are staying for a second year.

For example, 5 percent more Eastern Michigan University freshmen enrolled for their sophomore year this fall than last.

Lynette Findley, the university’s assistant vice president for retention and student success, said the 77 percent retention rate is the highest since 1992, when the university began tracking it.

Wayne State, Grand Valley State, Western Michigan and Ferris State universities also saw slight jumps in freshman retention from last year.

Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, said freshman retention in public universities has increased statewide.

However, Oakland University experienced a 1.1 percent decrease. But Dave Gross, assistant director of media relations at the university, said the drop isn’t of major concern because small fluctuations from year to year are common.

Oakland’s retention rate was 73.3 percent.

Lynn Blue, vice provost and dean of academic services and information technology at Grand Valley, said many factors keep students from continuing after their freshman year, including poor adjustment to college, illness or poor academic performance.

Boulus said success in the first year is vital.

“When you have a successful first year, you will continue on,” he said. “If you don’t, the chances are you will transfer or quit.

“We want to make sure that our students stay in college and complete their degrees.”

Universities offer services such as tutoring and counseling to help students succeed and enhance retention, Boulus said.

For example, many universities have “learning communities” for freshmen to help each other with coursework.

Linda Falkiewicz, the Wayne State registrar, said, “Retention rates for students who are in learning communities are much higher than those who are not.”

Wayne State’s mid-term grading program informs students of their academic performance in the first half-semester and urges those who are doing poorly to make early efforts to improve grades, she said.

Findley said a good transition from high school to college helps students stay in college.

Freshmen look for rules to follow as they did in high school, she said.

Eastern Michigan mandates that freshmen, especially those who are conditionally admitted, get advising, attend meetings or pass certain courses to improve their chance of future success, she said.

Falkiewicz said Wayne State’s “iStart” program, a three-day orientation, helps freshmen adjust to college life.

But the biggest challenge is money, experts said.

Boulus said students from low-income families are the most likely to discontinue college education after the first year.

Falkiewicz said that although universities offer financial aid, not all students in need can get it.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Education

Programs boost breakfasts, learning at schools


Capital News Service


LANSING –A whole-grain muffin, a glass of milk and an oatmeal bar start the day for students in Belding Area Schools. And the food is free.


The district began the free breakfast program for all its K-12 students regardless of income two years ago.


“We want to make sure that every student has breakfast before classes start,” said John Klapko, the district’s food service director.


Belding is one of the 206 districts that met the Education Department’s Breakfast Challenge. Among the others are Lincoln Park Public Schools, Kent City Community Schools, Macomb Intermediate School District, Oakland International Academy and Pontiac City School District.


Launched in partnership with the Okemos-based United Diary Industry of Michigan, the project sought to increase participation in the federally funded breakfast program by at least 50 percent in two years.


Michael Flanagan, state superintendent of public instruction, said the federal program of free or reduced-cost breakfasts has been significantly underused in Michigan.


Gloria Zunker, a school district consultant at the department, said 80 percent of schools offered breakfast, but only 14 percent of students took advantage of it two years ago.


The federal program has existed for more than four decades with participation based on family income.


After the Breakfast Challenge began, nearly 12 million more breakfasts were served to about 68,000 more students statewide in 2009-10, according to the department.


An average of 1,290 students eat school breakfast every day in Belding, a 237 percent jump from 2008.


Lincoln Park has increased its daily participation by 180 percent.


Lapeer, Clintondale and Les Cheneaux community schools saw more than a 60 percent raise from two years ago.


Schools breakfasts contain whole-grain bread, bagles or muffins, fat-reduced milk or juice and fresh fruits to meet federal nutritional requirements.


Zunker said schools encourage students to eat breakfast in a variety of ways, such as breakfast in the classroom and “Grab-n-Go” breakfasts from mobile carts.


Some schools drop off students at cafeterias before they go to class, she said.


Alice Jo Rainville, a nutrition and dietetics professor at Eastern Michigan University, said breakfast is crucial to children’s development.


“It starts your day,” she said. “Nutrition in breakfast helps children build their bodies.”


Studies show eating breakfast fosters attentiveness and achievement, improves children’s ability to learn, reduces tardiness and misbehavior, helps prevent obesity and establishes healthy habits, Rainville said.


She said teachers also serve as model of healthy eating when they eat breakfast with students.


Lincoln Park Superintendent Richard Rockwell said he has noticed that students are less tardy because they come to school early to get free breakfast.


Belding’s Klapko said his teachers are happy because students focus better in class after eating breakfast.


And Jane Zehnder-Merrell, director of the Kids Count project at the Michigan League for Human Services, said school breakfast is particularly helpful for children in poverty.


The league is a nonprofit policy and advocacy organization that works to ensure economic security for low-income residents.


Zehnder-Merrell said it’s a challenge for some low-income parents to meet the nutritional needs of their children.


Although they can get food assistance, it covers only two thirds of their basic food budget, she said.


A free and nutritious breakfast at school helps solve the problem, Zehnder-Merrell said.


Rockwell said serving breakfast in the classroom creates a positive school culture. For example, teachers talk with students about their after-school life and plans for the day while serving breakfast.


“It’s homey,” Rockwell said. “It’s a warm, inviting and relaxing way to begin the day.


Twelve school districts that achieved the highest increases in participation for their programs, including Belding, Lincoln Park, Conner Creek and Reed City, received cash awards from United Diary Industry to help with future breakfast promotion programs.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Education

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