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Nov. 4, 2016

MSU helps Flint students understand diabetes

Michigan State University will help young people and their families understand what factors put them at risk for disease by expanding a program in the Flint Community Schools and surrounding community.

Researchers plan to introduce a science curriculum focused on Type 2 diabetes for all sixth-grade students in the Flint school district this year. The curriculum, called “What Makes Us the Way We Are?” was piloted in a limited number of classrooms in Flint and Detroit last spring.

In Flint, parents and residents who gathered to hear students’ final presentations were so enthusiastic that partners secured an additional $89,000 grant from the Science Education Partnership Award through the National Institutes of Health.

"Education is a true and effectual catalyst. Even the simplest things we learn change us in some way,” said Sharon Saddler, a Flint resident living with diabetes and a representative of Flint-based Community-Based Organization Partners, or CBOP. “Our hope is that the education that we provide through this project regarding Type 2 diabetes will not only change young lives, but will save young lives.”

The CREATE for STEM Institute at MSU is collaborating with CBOP, the school district, University of Michigan, the Sloan Museum and the Flint Public Library.

Designed to meet the new Michigan Science Standards, “What Makes Us the Way We Are?” is a coordinated set of classroom and community activities intended to give youth and adults an understanding of modern concepts in genetics they can use to appreciate the importance of both genetic and environmental factors in their risk for disease.

The curriculum connects students to real-world experiences and provides relevance for their learning. One in 10 adults in Michigan is diagnosed with diabetes, and the rates are significantly higher for Flint residents and African-Americans. Diabetes, like many common diseases, is caused by a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. During the unit, students investigate how lifestyle options for healthy foods and exercise help prevent or reduce diabetes.

“Learning how the gene-environment interaction applies to their everyday lives builds awareness in students, their family members and the broader community about how science can help us make informed decisions about our lives,” said Joe Krajcik, principal investigator of the project and director of CREATE for STEM Institute.

The Flint curriculum and community events are part of a five-year, $1.2 million project funded by the NIH partnership award. The project focuses on developing learning materials and blending school and community learning experiences to teach genomics and evolution.

Additional collaborators include the Concord Consortium in Massachusetts and multiple partners in Detroit: University Preparatory Schools, Detroit Public Schools Community District, the Detroit Public Library, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Michigan Science Center and Friends of Parkside.