Washtenaw United: UM and WISD partner to create equity in early childhood education by getting kids moving – WEMU

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University of Michigan associate professor of kinesiology Dr. Rebecca Hasson.

Erin Kirkland


Michigan Photography

University of Michigan associate professor of kinesiology Dr. Rebecca Hasson.


Dr. Rebecca Hasson

Dr. Rebecca Hasson is an Associate Professor of Movement Science in the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology. As Director of the University of Michigan Childhood Disparities Research Laboratory, Rebecca uses her expertise in exercise physiology, implementation science, and health equity research to improve the health and well-being of children and their families across the state. She has formed statewide partnerships to change classroom physical activity practices and policies and empower families to engage in health behaviors through the common thread of physical activity. Rebecca has made it her mission to get children, teachers, families, and communities across the state of Michigan moving again.

Danielle Dros, regional school health coordinator for Washtenaw and Livingston counties.

Danielle Dros

Danielle Dros, regional school health coordinator for Washtenaw and Livingston counties.

Danielle Dros

Danielle Dros is the Regional School Health Coordinator servicing Washtenaw and Livingston counties. She is a licensed social worker and has seven years of experience providing professional learning on topics including trauma-responsive practices, preventing and responding to community harm, and socially just health education. Outside of work, Danielle teaches tap and musical theatre dance to youth and adults at a local dance studio.


Michigan School Health Coordinators’ Association (MiSHCA)

Interrupting Prolonged sitting with ACTivity (InPACT)

UWSEM 21-Day Equity Challenge

Data on Childhood Experiences and Education

The Center for Disease Control’s – Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC)

The Michigan Model for Health™ (MMH)

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: For Youth & Parents


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And welcome to Washtenaw United. It is our ongoing exploration of equity and opportunity in our community. I’m David Fair. And right now, the United Way for Southeastern Michigan is offering up its 21-Day Equity Challenge. You can have readings and videos that explore a variety of topics sent right to your email, so we all get a better handle on implicit bias and many of the issues that create racial and economic barriers around us. While the challenge extends into June, we thought we would use Washtenaw United to explore some of the topics available to you when you sign up. And today, we’re going to look at early childhood education and its role in closing equity gaps. And we’re going to do so with two people who are working in partnership. The University of Michigan School of Kinesiology Childhood Disparities Research Laboratory is working with the Washtenaw Intermediate School District to get children moving. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s go to the experts. Doctor Rebecca Hasson is director of the research laboratory and a professor of movement science at the U of M School of Kinesiology. And thank you so much for being here today!

Dr. Rebecca Hasson: Thank you for having me!

David Fair: And Danielle Dros is serving Washtenaw and Livingston County as regional school health coordinator. Thank you for your time, Danielle!

Danielle Dros: Yeah, thanks for having me!

David Fair: Doctor Hasson, what is the InPACT program?

Dr. Rebecca Hasson: InPACT stands for “Interrupting Prolonged sitting with ACTivity.” And over the last five years, we’ve been working with classroom teachers, principals, school administrators all across the state, but particularly in Washtenaw County, to integrate more physical activity into the classroom space. We know that physical activity is essential for child learning. And so, we really want to make sure that every child has an equitable opportunity to move to prime the brain for learning, regulate their emotions, and just get the wiggles out.

David Fair: Danielle, why is the Washtenaw Intermediate School District the perfect place for this program?

Danielle Dros: Yeah. So, all districts–all regions across the state of Michigan–have a regional school health coordinator. And so, InPACT can be a great program anywhere across the state. And so, I’m just our representative for Washtenaw. But any elementary school is an ideal place for this program, because we know that health and well-being are the foundational aspects of child success. And so, if we want children to do well academically, we need to equip them with the health and wellness foundational skills, so that we can see those academic achievement outcomes.

David Fair: And, Doctor Hasson, take me inside a classroom. What does this look like when implemented?

Dr. Rebecca Hasson: So, it looks like a lot of fun. So, as you know, most children, even adults, we can’t sit for very long. And the science tells us that when we engage in prolonged sitting, it actually reduces our focus and attention, and it inhibits our ability to learn. So, what you will see is a variety of different activity breaks. But usually, the teacher will say it’s time to get up and move. And all of the students will set down their materials, stand next to their desks, they’ll put on a nice exercise video, and for just about four minutes, we like to call them exercise snacks instead of eating a whole meal and doing it for 30 minutes, just a for brief minute brain primer to bring all that energy back up to the brain, oxygen, blood flow to prime that brain for learning. Then, the kids get right back into their seat. And within 30 seconds, they’re back on task. And, again, we like to say that–

David Fair: How is that? If I move, then I tend to get distracted.

Dr. Rebecca Hasson: Oh, yes.

David Fair: So, how are they getting the kids back on task? Is there a process or methodology involved in that?

Dr. Rebecca Hasson: So, over the past years, we’ve created a lot of different ways to help with classroom management, because that’s one of the biggest barriers to implementing activity breaks. And so, we’ve created posters, but even taking children’s heart rate. So, if you can imagine you’re up doing a great video, you’re singing along, you’re doing all this activity, and then if we say, “Shhh. It’s time to find your heart rate, so find it right next to your neck.” And then, we’re going to count quietly to see how fast is our heart beating and are we in the right target heart rate. That’s a great way to calm the kids down. Some other teachers might do some mindful breathing activities afterwards, because you can imagine if your kids are already excited, increasing their heart rate might be a little more…it might not do the trick into helping to help them focus, but doing more mindful breathing activities afterwards to get them back down, to help them to regulate, get them in that green zone, which is the focus calm zone, so that they’re ready to learn.

David Fair: Danielle, you’ve put this into place in the Whitmore Lake Schools. Have you had an opportunity to watch as the teachers work with the kids and how that plays out in the course of the school day?

Danielle Dros: Yeah! Actually, Rebecca and I got to go on site and see InPACT in action in some of the Whitmore Lake Elementary School classrooms. Students have gotten accustomed to having physical activity breaks as a part of their daily routine. So, they hear the cues, they know where their spot is on the floor, they go to it, they have their favorite videos that they like to do. You know, the act of being physically active actually helps our brain refocus. And then, at Whitmore Lake, we’re actually seeing some classes of students ask for activity breaks. So, they’re getting more awareness in their own bodies to say, “Hey, teacher! I think we need an activity break. My body needs to move a little bit,” which is really cool.

David Fair: Washtenaw United continues on 89 one WEMU. We are talking with Doctor Rebecca Hasson from the U of M School of Kinesiology and Daniel Dros from the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. Doctor Hasson, clearly, this is an innovative program. The Michigan Model for Health is implemented in 38 different states, obviously in Michigan as well. And it’s not just about physical activity, but it’s about what is known as the WSCC model or “Whole Community, Whole School, Whole Child” model. What are the broader goals?

Dr. Rebecca Hasson: I think for both the Michigan Model for Health and InPACT, we recognize that if we want a child to be successful in a classroom, we need to meet all of the needs of a child. So, that’s where that whole child framework comes in. And what does that mean? Maslow–he was a psychologist–came up with this hierarchy of needs, understanding that if you want that success, that performance, that top, that best, that you first need to understand that children need physiological needs. They need sleep, they need food, they need physical activity. Then, we have to meet their safety needs. So, if you can think about are schools safe—free from bullying, free from shootings. Do they have schedules and routine that also creates safety? Then, after we’ve met those needs, then you have sense of belonging. Do they feel like they belong in a classroom? They belong in that school. They see themselves. Then, you get to esteem needs. Then you get to that self-actualization. Personal best and physical activity can be woven into each one of meeting those needs. And so, we’ve developed a nice parent guide. But, more importantly, the Michigan Model fo Health has been doing that for many years in terms of promoting health education to meet children’s needs through a variety of different ways. And Danielle can give you a little more insight on that.

Danielle Dros: Yeah. Michigan Model for Health is the state’s comprehensive K through 12 health education curriculum. It covers lots of different topics, including nutrition, physical activity, safety, personal health and wellness, alcohol, tobacco, other drugs, right? So, between programs like us and like InPACT, we’re really working to help students build health and wellness skills across the spectrum of health. Because we know that if we can support students in those areas, they’re more likely to succeed academically as well.

David Fair: So, let me ask you this, Doctor Hasson. How does all of this, in particular the InPACT program, play into the educational community’s ability to create greater equity?

Dr. Rebecca Hasson: Yes, that’s a great question, because a lot of people usually put on their own childhood hats when they’re thinking about physical activity and saying, “Well, can’t kids just go outside and play? I mean, don’t they have P.E. every day in recess? I used to have that when I was a kid.”

David Fair: Yeah. Me too.

Dr. Rebecca Hasson: But unfortunately, over the past few years, due to budget cuts, due to changes in policies and laws, P.E. Was deemed a nonessential curriculum many years ago. And so, when you can think of the incentive structures in our schools are really focused on the academics, things like P.E., physical education, music, art, they may take a second seat. And we know in our under-resourced schools that there’s fewer P.E. Teachers–certified P.E. teachers. Recess is taken away more often in urban schools for punishment reasons. In rural schools, they’re less likely to have recess. And even in classroom activity breaks that we help support teachers do, we see differences or disparities in implementation, meaning it’s much easier to implement these types of programs in higher resourced schools. There’s fewer barriers in those environments, whether it comes to, like, the student needs, teachers’ confidence in their ability, competing priorities, support from administration compared to our under-resourced schools that need more support. And we’re here to help provide that support as the University of Michigan, in partnership with the Michigan Regional School Health Coordinators’ Association.

David Fair: And, Danielle, perhaps you can speak to this, but it takes resources. And as we talk budget cuts, the fact of the matter is regional health coordinators is a totally underfunded program.

Danielle Dros: Yeah, yeah. So, regional school health coordinators were a really unique infrastructure. There is one health coordinator supporting every region across the state of Michigan, so every public, private and charter school has an embedded health consultant. But, yes, that’s true. We are not fully funded. And so, our ISDs have to sort of round out our employment with other tasks when we really want to be doing this health work full-time, because we know how important it is.

Dr. Rebecca Hasson: And if I can also piggyback on what Danielle just said that the InPACT program would be so much less successful if we did not have the support of regional school health coordinators. They play an essential role in providing ISD or intermediate school district region support to individual schools ,whereas that P.E. teacher, they’re more of the internal boots on the ground. But, as you know, at the University of Michigan, we can’t go around to every single school, so to enable and empower and provide enough resources for our regional school health coordinators to not only support InPACT, but all evidence-based health programs and educational curriculum. It’s a win-win for the schools, it’s a win-win for our children, and it promotes equity.

David Fair: Those who are in charge of creating the funding want to know outcomes. So, Danielle, when you look at what the outcomes have been thus far in the Whitmore Lake School District, what do you find?

Danielle Dros: Yeah, our Whitmore Lake partners have seen some really cool things since they’ve started implementing InPACT building-wide at their elementary school at the start of this year. We saw behavioral referrals go down. Positive social behavior is going up, which is really exciting.

Dr. Rebecca Hasson: So, let me tell you and give you a number.

David Fair: All right.

Dr. Rebecca Hasson: We saw, in those first few months, 42% reduction in behavioral referrals. That’s huge now!

David Fair: And you attribute that to physical activity and refocusing children.

Dr. Rebecca Hasson: I attribute that, in part, to physical activity refocusing children–the school, also. These are wonderful teachers and principals who are very dedicated and interested in improving the health and well-being of their students. So, I think it was InPACT providing an opportunity for the school to coalesce together, to focus on an outcome. And the physical activity was part of that process. And kids are recognizing when they need to get the wiggles out and when they need to refocus and so are the teachers. And the teachers are even becoming more nuanced to where it’s not the entire classroom getting up like military-style, but even creating little pockets around the room, so that kids have a little bit more autonomy and pick their type of activity that they want to do. Just getting those wiggles out and finding fun ways to do that.

David Fair: Has there been a change in academic outcomes?

Dr. Rebecca Hasson: So, usually, you need to see a program implemented like InPACT for at least three years before you see changes in academic outcomes, but we really focus on those immediate outcomes–what is happening right now. So, one, we see more focus and attention after doing an activity break. 99% of students are back on task within 30 seconds. We see goal achievement in terms of when we gamify the intervention, meaning we added little prizes and goals and kids got stickers every time they met their physical activity goals as a classroom. We saw more respect in the classroom. We saw more of a greater sense of belonging. The teachers saw greater enjoyment. So, these are all the key ingredients that lead to academic outcomes. So, come to us in a couple of years, and we’ll have those outcomes. One cool thing I will say that Nike put out about ten years ago is that when you compare fit kids to unfit kids, you see 40% higher test scores and 15% more likely to go to college. So, again, adding in physical activity, making sure that kids are getting the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity every day is a win-win, not only for their health, but also for their achievement.

David Fair: Well, it’s been implemented and with initial success in the Whitmore Lake schools. Danielle, I assume you’d be willing to work with the other districts in Washtenaw County to get a program underway.

Danielle Dros: Yeah, I sure would. InPACT is an amazing program in the sense that it is financially free, and it has a lot of built-in supports.

David Fair: You just said magic words.

Danielle Dros: Yes, yes. Financially free. The only real big investment is time. And then, between supports like myself and Doctor Hassan, we really come in and walk side-by-side with you to figure out how to most successfully adopt the program in your building, so that you’re not throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, that we’re being really intentional, so that when we adopt the program and implement, we have higher likelihood of success with implementation.

David Fair: Well, I’d like to thank you both for making time today and sharing your work on creating greater equity in the schools, community and in early childhood education. I really appreciate it!

Dr. Rebecca Hasson: Thank you for having us!

Danielle Dros: Yeah, thanks so much!

David Fair: That is Doctor Rebecca Hasson. She is director of the research laboratory and a professor of movement science in the U of M School of Kinesiology. And Danielle Dros, who is serving Washtenaw County as regional school health coordinator. They’ve been our guests on Washtenaw United. It’s a weekly feature produced in partnership with United Way for Southeastern Michigan, and United Way’s 21-Day Equity Challenge continues. For more information and to sign up, just pay a visit to our website at wemu.org. We’ll have all the links you need. I’m David Fair, and this is your community member station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.


United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s fourth annual 21-Day Equity Challenge is officially underway, and for the duration of the challenge, we’re covering different topics related to Equity on Washtenaw United.

Today’s topic for conversation from the Equity Challenge is Day Two: Early Childhood Education is Crucial in Closing Equity Gaps. From infancy through high school, children’s educational outcomes are dependent on the quality of their learning experience. Inequities in education start early and have lifelong impacts on children and communities. This opportunity gap is not due to individual actions but is profoundly shaped by social and economic conditions and systems.

Examples include lack of affordable housing, abuse and/or neglect in the household, lack of economic mobility, and poverty.

What is the 21-Day Equity Challenge?

The 21-Day Equity Challenge is a commitment to learn the different ways that bias, prejudice, privilege, and oppression show up in our everyday lives through a series of emails.

When does the 21-Day Equity Challenge start?

The challenge will take place each weekday from May 17-June 14.

How do I participate in the 21-Day Equity Challenge?

Sign up online to receive an email each of the 21 days asking you to Listen, Read, Watch, and Act on issues affecting our community.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is ‘Washtenaw United.’

Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support.  Make your donation to WEMU today to keep your community NPR station thriving.

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Contact WEMU News at 734.487.3363 or email us at [email protected]

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