The University of Michigan will join Michigan State University and others to 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, including Dr. Toby Citrin, director of the Center for Public Health and Community Genomics at UM SPH, plan to introduce a science curriculum focused on type 2 diabetes for all 6th-grade students in the Flint Community Schools this year.
“This project blends formal education in the classroom with informal education in the community,” Citrin said. “Community-based organizations and institutions strengthen the classroom learning and enhance community literacy in genomics and disease.”
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 community members who gathered to hear students’ final presentations were so enthusiastic that partners secured an additional $89,000 grant from the Science Education Partnership Award, 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 (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.”
Partners are the CREATE for STEM Institute at MSU in collaboration with CBOP, UM, the school district, 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 are 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 Dr. Joseph 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 SEPA-NIH focused on developing learning materials that emphasize knowledge-in-use, and that blend school and community learning experiences to teach genomics and evolution.