ISHPEMING - Participation in a Bell Hospital program has left 19 middle school students with a better understanding of health and fitness and one of those students with a year of free tuition at Northern Michigan University.
The Ishpeming hospital wrapped up its Strength From Within program this week. The program - which just finished its second year, runs September to June and is open to middle school students from the Ishpeming, Negaunee and NICE community schools - is designed to teach young adults how to live and enjoy healthy, active lifestyles.
"There's no losers in this program," said Dave Aro, vice president of clinic operations for Bell and one of the organizers of the program, addressing the students and families who participated in the program this year. "It's not only helped you, it's helped your families. We want a healthier community. What you guys are learning is going to follow you through your whole life."
Lyndsey Dobson, a participant in the Bell Hospital Strength From Within program, takes her turn on a spin bike during the Bell Bike Race while other members of her team keep her cool with hand fans. The program wrapped up this week with awards and a one-year tuition scholarship being presented. (Bell Hospital photo)
Winning the year of NMU tuition this round was Aspen Ridge Middle School eighth-grader Hanna Wisuri, 13.
"At first I joined it for the money, but then I realized I'm learning something that I'll have later on," she said.
The four runners up, who received $500 gift certificates to local bike shops, were Aleah Korpi, Amanda Matznick, Amber Rautio and Desiree Neaveau.
The program this year began with 37 students; 19 finished the program and 17 qualified to compete for the NMU scholarship.
Aro said the smaller number of students who completed the requirements was due to new, more strict requirements for the food journals the participants kept. In addition to food journals, the students also logged how much physical activity they achieved each day. Other requirements included completion of 18 hours of fitness-oriented volunteer work, regular meetings with a lifestyle coach provided by the hospital, Saturday exercise sessions and monthly education sessions covering topics like organic food, portion sizes and healthier fast food.
To be eligible for the NMU scholarship, students had to meet all those requirements, as well as complete an essay about how they found their own strength from within and an interview with a panel of judges.
Aro said the program will likely reassess the food journal requirements for next year's participants.
"I think what we learned is if we make it too hard they won't do it," he said.
For the students who stuck with the program and completed the requirements, though, the program definitely had a positive impact.
Each of the participants went through two rounds of testing - one at the beginning and one at the end of the program - to determine their level of physical fitness and other markers such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Because of the normal growth rate of middle schoolers, the group as a whole gained 136 pounds and grew a total of 27 inches. With that growth, however, their body fat percentage as a whole decreased by 11 percent, showing that the kids were growing leaner as they grew taller.
The group's average total cholesterol dropped from 157 to 136 and their average blood pressure dropped from 110/67 to 106/65, showing their bodies became more efficient as they worked to live healthier lifestyles.
Fitness testing also saw improvements, with a 22.54 percent increase in the number of pushups the group could do in a minute.
Outside of the more objective testing, the group also saw emotional growth during the program, said Kristen Wodzinski, manager of Bell's wellness and rehabilitation department.
"The community service really affected them," she said. "They really enjoyed their community service hours. A lot of them did it with their friends. It was nice to see them encouraging each other."
The program is expected to run again in the fall, offering another NMU scholarship and nine months of programming to help the young people in the area move toward better health.
"They need to be responsible and they need to dedicate themselves to what they're doing," Wisuri advised future Strength From Within participants.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401.