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Helping Students Build Healthy Habits

It’s all about building healthy habits for one teacher at Detroit Merit Charter Academy. Kayla Neidow works to teach students practical skills while promoting a positive attitude toward nutrition and fitness. "It's a big passion of mine to promote healthy food and a healthy lifestyle, finding that balance," shared Neidow.

When it comes to nutrition, students were recently able to take part in a “Kids in the Kitchen” event. It’s a program designed to equip elementary students with essential cooking skills while promoting healthy and affordable meal choices. Neidow explained, "The goal of the program is to teach fifth graders more independence in cooking healthy and affordable meals for their families."

Detroit Merit students cooking
Students enjoying their time together as part of the “Kids in the Kitchen” program.

Through “Kids in the Kitchen,” students not only learn to prepare affordable, healthy meals but also gain valuable information about food choices. "While they were combining ingredients, we discussed various meats, like fish or beef versus ground turkey, and why I made certain dietary switches, such as for lower cholesterol and fat content."
This interactive approach engages students in cooking and also encourages them to make nutritious choices. Interactive methods like this have helped Detroit Merit outperform the local district for the past 14 years.

Detroit Merit students cooking
Students learning about simple cooking methods and how to make healthy food choices.

Another initiative close to Neidow’s heart is “Girls on the Run” where girls learn the importance of listening to their bodies and adopting a balanced approach to fitness. Throughout the year, students work to be more active, sometimes walking, other times running.  By the end of the season, the goal is for each girl to take part in the Girls on the Run 5K where every participant is celebrated. "It's not a competition,” explained Neidow. “It's just about everyone finishing."

Neidow shared that “Girls on the Run” is about more than just physical activity. It’s also a way to instill confidence in each participant. “At each practice, there’s a lesson that goes with the workout,” Neidow revealed. “One example is a lesson about positive self-talk, how to catch ourselves when we're having negative self-talk, and how to change it.” 

Detroit Merit student participating in Girls on the Run
Taking part in “Girls on the Run” at Detroit Merit Charter Academy.

It’s also another venue for learning about the importance of making healthy food choices. "Just having those conversations, not about this being good or a bad food, but how is it going to fuel or not fuel your body?"

Neidow stresses the importance of mindful eating and regular physical activity, even beyond structured school activities. She says it’s important for parents to get involved: “Make sure you’re cheering them on and modeling healthy behavior.”

Great job, Ms. Neidow, keep up the good work!

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About Detroit Merit Charter Academy
Detroit Merit Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Detroit, Michigan, serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes more than 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit

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