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Katherine Drotos, a wellness teacher at Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse of Detroit said the wellness program is about teaching children how to make healthy choices. “Everything is a choice, what choices are going to best benefit them," she says.


Detroit school teaches children the A-B-C’s of healthy living

by Jennifer M. Weaver
June 02, 2010


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Jennifer M. Weaver/MEDILL

Elijah Rozier, principal, (left) and Izgebe N’Namdi, director of operations stand in front of a painting of Nataki Talibah. "Nataki" means of high birth and "Talibah" means seeker after knowledge.

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Jennifer M. Weaver/MEDILL

Tiny seedlings sprouting in a kindergarten class.

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Jennifer M. Weaver/MEDILL

The beginning stages of a compost pile second- graders chipped in to create.

“It’s about making healthy choices,” said Katherine Drotos, before heading to class pushing a 3-foot utility cart decorated with colorful fruits and vegetables. “Everything is a choice, what choices are going to best benefit them?”

Drotos is a wellness teacher at Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse of Detroit. The small kindergarten to 8th grade charter school is a hidden gem in a hardscrabble neighborhood. Inside, the school looks almost barnd-new, exuding a warm personality and charm,  far from its bleak surroundings.

“Healthy kids, healthy planet,” “Eat fruits and vegetables,” and “Plant a tree” are just a few of the messages posted on yellow and green message boards.

“What I see are older kids, hungry, very excited and wanting to be first in line,” said Deborah Carter, a food-service coordinator for Nataki, “They seem to be very satisfied with the food they are eating,” she said with a smile.

But it’s what you won’t see in the Nataki Talibah lunch room that’s sending a stronger message: vending machines, beef, pork and a la carte items such as french fries or snack cakes.

“Those are the foods that tend to have the highest sodium content, the highest fat content, the highest amounts of cholesterol,” said Drotos, “We don’t offer that, we offer full meals.”

Nataki’s wellness guidelines are one component of a program that includes activities on nutrition, physical activity, safety, peer mediation and conflict resolution. In conflict resolution, students learn “what’s something they can solve on their own, or if it’s come to a point where they need to tell an adult,” Drotos said.

Students in upper grade levels also get lessons in environmentalism, genetics, stress and  avoiding procrastination.

“Holistic education, it’s the whole child that you're developing, it’s not just academic,” said Izgebe N’Namdi, director of operations for Nataki Talibah. “That’s really our goal here, to filter healthy people into society.

And that education penetrates far deeper than the classroom or the pupil. “Parents indirectly learn just as much as the children,” said N’Namdi, “Healthy family, healthy children, healthy learning environment, the wellness program plays a vital role in that.”

 Nataki’s holistic approach has been a part of the school’s official curriculum for nine years. But staff members say wellness has played a role in the schools foundation from the very beginning in 1978.

“One of the best things that we can do for our children is to teach them how to eat healthily,” said Bethany Thayer, a registered dietician at Henry Ford Health System and spokeswoman for the Chicago-based American Dietetic Association.

“If they can learn it and live it at a very young age it makes it easier as they grow,” she said.

This is certainly the hope Nataki administrators and faculty have for their students, implemented by activities inside and outside their lunchroom.

From tiny seedlings sprouting in a kindergarten classroom, to the compost pile tended by second graders Nataki has found a way to turn nutrition, environmentalism and healthy living into the A-B-C’s of healthy education in school.