News Release

Health Department of Northwest Michigan
serving Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego Counties
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Health Department awarded Safe Routes to School grant for six schools

(November 28, 2011) The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is one of five local health departments awarded a grant from Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) to develop Safe Routes to Schools (SRTS) Action Plans in partnership with local schools. Boyne City Elementary and Middle School, Gaylord Intermediate and Middle School, and Pellston Elementary and Middle School are all participating in the program, designed to encourage and enable school children, including children with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to and from school when distance is reasonable and routes are safe.

"We recognize the important role schools can play in addressing the childhood obesity epidemic," said Fred Sitkins, Boyne City Elementary School Principal. "Children are not as physically active as they once were, with decreases in the numbers walking or biking to school and increases in "screen tim" and other sedentary pursuits."

SRTS Teams are forming now in each community to oversee development of local Action Plans. In Pellston, the Building Healthy Communities Coalition's Physical Activity Work Group serves as the SRTS Team. "We're recruiting now for all of the SRTS Teams," said Jim Harrington, Building Healthy Communities Consultant for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. "Anyone who is interested is welcome to join us."

Harrington said the first steps to the SRTS project will soon be underway. "We're preparing to collect data now," he said. "There's a flurry of activity: parents are completing SRTS surveys, teachers are compiling tallies of how students got to school, and we're planning walking and biking audits in each community".

Walking and biking audits are very important to developing SRTS Action Plans: "In addition to physical activity's obvious health benefits, we know students who get at least 60 minutes of exercise per day come to school better rested and less stressed," said Jerry Belanger, Gaylord Middle School Principal. "Walking and biking to school makes students better learners."

The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. For additional information, contact Harrington at 989-619-4204 or