Member Kudos: Project LEAN, Van Buren ISD

2015 Education Excellence Award Recipient

DashBoard, Nov. 4, 2015

The 20 recipients of the 2015 MASB/SET SEG Foundation Education Excellence Awards are some of the greatest examples of unique and innovative public school programs in the state of Michigan. Over the next few months, MASB has shared the details of each program from their applications, presented in alphabetical order by district. This week we highlight the final program, Project LEAN at Van Buren ISD.

Description: Project LEAN (Linking Education, Activity and Nutrition) is a nutrition education program that serves more than 12,000 students throughout southwest Michigan with the goal of increasing our students' consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, and physical activity levels over their beginning personal baselines at the start of their respective programming.

Project LEAN uses a six-class series format that incorporates evidence-based and best practice literacy focused nutrition interventions that include: literacy-based nutrition lessons, nutrition-themed book readings, food tastings, movement activities, hands-on student activities and parent engagement components.

One unique aspect of Project LEAN is that we effectively collaborate with eight other Intermediate School Districts or Regional Educational Service Agencies throughout southwest Michigan to efficiently serve the students in our respective regions fully supporting the Governor’s Prosperity Region Initiative. The other unique part of our program is that we effectively incorporated Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, student mentoring, student leadership and a host of student-lead projects into our program.

Through our innovative partnerships with business and industry, government agencies, regional school districts, faith-based organizations and communities, Project LEAN is positively transforming the lives of students, families, schools and communities.

Funding/Resources: Project LEAN serves students in nine counties and touches the lives of more than 12,000 students throughout southwest Michigan. If one were to take into account our budget, in-kind teacher match, facility usage, other in-kind contributions, corporate and other nonprofit support, we would be a multimillion dollar operation. The core part of Project LEAN is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, the Michigan Fitness Foundation and the Michigan Department of Human Services. However, several partners contribute to the overall success of Project LEAN in a variety of ways.

USDA Funding (DHS/MFF) $850,000 (SNAP-Ed Budget)
Local Teacher Match (time and effort) $297,500 (limited by reporting requirements. Well in excess of $1 million)
Detroit Gleaners Food Bank $3,600
In-kind materials $10,000
Michigan Fitness Foundation in-kind materials $15,000
VB Research and Development $4,000
Conservation Fund $3,800
Corporate Contributions



Paid Staff:
7 Educators
.8 Administrator
.2 Adm Asst/Bookkeeper

More than 225 volunteers with over 3,000 hours donated

Project LEAN is considered one of the most effective, efficient and innovative SNAP-Ed nutrition programs in the state. Through our collaborative partnerships and innovative literacy-based programming, we have quadrupled our scope, capacity and reach without increasing overhead and administrative expenditures.

Outreach: Project LEAN, through its contextual project-based interventions, provides opportunities throughout our programming for students to improve their ability to practice the Four C’s: communication, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration.

One of the core missions of Project LEAN is to engage parents in the educational process. With this in mind, all of our lessons have a parent engagement component were students have activities that they take home and communicate with their parents the lessons they have learned regarding health and nutrition that day.

Small group work is also a part of our programming; activities we have purposefully promote communication, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. An example of this would be our Healthy Classrooms, Healthy Schools lesson where students are divided into groups for the purpose of evaluating how healthy their classroom, cafeteria and school are overall. Once the evaluation is complete, the student groups are to come up with suggestions on how they would make each of these areas more healthy for students. Part of the process includes the students writing the food service director regarding their findings and suggestions for making the food service area healthier for students.

Another example of critical thinking is our partnership with Fuel Up to Play 60. In this program, we develop student leadership groups, and their job is to, as a student committee, think of ways to improve their school around health, nutrition and physical activity.

The ideas these leadership teams have developed and implemented have been amazing. One school decided to do a morning walking program with parents. In support of the Pure Michigan theme of the state of Michigan, the students wanted to walk to important geographical locations throughout Michigan. One morning they had more than 115 students and parents walking together. They initially wanted to walk (total miles) to Lansing. Within a week they had reached that milestone and ended up walking to the Mackinaw Bridge and through the UP. Another elementary school wanted to top that project, so they decided to walk to colleges throughout Michigan as part of College Readiness initiative. Once they accumulated enough miles to reach the respective college, each student had to then research that college in regards to programs offered, the community it was located, costs, etc. Three other elementary teams decided they wanted their annual walkathon to be their main fundraiser and get rid of the unhealthy fundraisers. The three schools raised $10,000, $11,000 and $14,500 respectively.

Benton Harbor student athletes implemented a kindergarten mentor program around Project LEAN. The student athletes themselves implemented the nutrition lessons, food tastings and movement activities. The essays included with this packet say it all in regards to the power and impact this program has had on our participating students.

The impact of Project LEAN on students, teachers, schools, families and communities in such a large area is unprecedented. It truly is a program that is transforming the lives of our children and families.

Results: The evaluation design will utilize the basic tenants of the widely used CIPP model. CIPP is an acronym for Context, Input, Process and Product. Evaluations take place relative to each part of the integrated model. There is a context evaluation, an evaluation of inputs, an evaluation of the process employed and finally an evaluation of the products produced as a result of the various interventions employed. Each component is then viewed relative to each of the other four components. By example, Context (needs to be addressed) is observed relative to the Inputs provided to address those needs. The process is then viewed relative to the methods by which the Inputs were employed and the results are observed as the Products, again relative to the needs (Context) of the intervention. This model is appropriate for addressing the evaluation of this project. Within the design, four basic evaluation questions are generated:

Context: What were the primary goals or objectives or what specific needs held by the populations were to be addressed by the interventions employed by the grantee?

Input: By what means can targeted needs best be addressed and are the plans for services to address the context needs appropriately applied and are they better than other available courses of action?

Process: To what extent are the planned services being implemented appropriately or to what extent have they been well executed?

Product: What results were produced and what impact have they had on the identified needs being addressed in the program design? Did the inputs and process result in added value relative to the target population?

After intervention, 78 percent of participants indicated they ate fruits most or all of the time, with an average increase of 12.3 percent in consumption of fruits over baseline.

After intervention, 67 percent of participants indicated they ate vegetables most or all of the time, with an average increase of 13.7 percent in consumption of vegetables over baseline.

Overall, the nutrition instruction had a positive impact on the preference and consumption of both fruits and vegetables. As in the past, there was a higher level of consumption of fruits than vegetables by all students, before and after instruction. With some variation, it appears that students in grades 3-5, or age groups 8-11, generally had the greatest increase after instruction in terms of consumption and preference for fruits and vegetables. It is very probable that the older students are able to maintain their understanding of levels of consumption and preference of fruits and vegetables from prior to lessons until after instruction has taken place, then the younger students.

Program and Educator Evaluation:
Through our program and educator evaluation tool, 95 percent of teachers responded that the program exceeded expectations while the remaining 5 percent rate the program as meeting expectations.

The immeasurable impact of the program can best be summed up by statement written in the comment section of our process evaluation. “This is the best program I have ever seen!”

Additional Information: The size, scope and impact of Project LEAN could never be captured in such a short narrative. Hopefully these essays, pictures and program highlights including testimonials from students, staff and parents will begin to shed light on how powerful and impactful this program has been to our students and communities.

Program Coordinator: Tom Richardson, Administrator for Business Development and Partnerships,

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