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‘You Don’t Have to Do Bad Things to Have a Good Time’

Students Promote Smart Choices, Strong Relationships

On a recent Saturday afternoon, East Grand Rapids High School students Keagan Haulenbeek, Shannon Ors, Michael Bender and Emily Milanowski busied themselves around school in their roles as co-chairs of “Healthy High.” Throughout the building, their peers held yogic warrior poses in the media center, painted ceramic plates in the cafeteria and even learned to scuba dive in the swimming pool.

There was a lot going on to spread a positive message: “Students feel passionately about having fun without being involved with toxins and other bad influences,” Emily said.

How Students are Involved in Promoting Healthy Living in EGR

  • Older students work with younger students and get to know one another
  • Students teach each other fun ways to socialize without bad influences
  • Events focus on physical and mental health
  • Seniors attend retreats to help take on leadership roles in school
  • Student-led events and programs improve credibility with peers

During the annual September event, students serve as a counter-force to cultural influences and the stereotype that high school is filled with rowdy teens who glorify drugs and alcohol.

“It shows the students involved that you can have fun and still lead a healthy lifestyle,” said Keagan. “You don’t have to do bad things to have a good time.”

It appears many students agree. Along with the four co-chairs, 30 students served on organizing committees for the event, and more than 400 students participated.

At Healthy High, students broke into activities to cook, rock climb, make pizza, twist tie-dye shirts, decorate cakes, play basketball and simply get to know one another better. The event is focused both on preventing drug and alcohol use and promoting a healthy lifestyle through fitness, nutrition and other positive habits.

“The main goal is to strive to be a healthier person mentally and live a happier lifestyle,” Emily said.

The co-chairs plan Healthy High over six months, reaching out to local businesses who served as sponsors and led activities. Motivational speaker and actor Tim Cusack kicked off the event and a casino night followed to raise money for next year’s event.

Students prepare a pepper during a Healthy High cooking class
Students prepare a pepper during a Healthy High cooking class

Programs Promote Relationships, Leadership

Healthy High falls under the umbrella of the district’s Leadership and Youth Development initiatives, in which 95 percent of EGR high-schools students are involved, said Shelly Boeve, parent board president for LYD.

“It’s all about getting kids to interact with one another and giving them leadership opportunities and chances to make healthy choices,” she said.

Started in 1995, LYD focuses on building a healthy student culture, she said. After district funding for programs was cut from the budget five years ago, programs have been entirely student-driven, volunteer-supported and funded by the community.

Other LYD events include Freshman Connection, a ninth-grade orientation during which freshman are connected with older students before the school year starts; and Senior Retreat, an annual camp weekend for seniors to spend time strengthening relationships and preparing for leadership roles.

LYD also involves ongoing programs where high-school students present on topics including tobacco use, bullying, peer pressure and conflict resolution at the district’s elementary schools. Also, Be Nice is a year-round effort to encourage kindness started by the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan.


EGR Leadership and Youth Development

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.


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