Boy wearing a mask walking to school

Building Healthy Communities Program Meeting the Unique Needs of Students During Pandemic

Students of all ages are facing a learning environment that is drastically different than just a year before. Some are logging onto Chromebooks and getting to know new teachers virtually. Others are sporting masks to class and eating lunches in classrooms instead of the cafeteria.

With so much upheaval and change, school districts are looking for new and innovative ways to address a variety of issues facing students, staff and administrators.

In order to meet some of the need, the Building Healthy Communities: Step Up for School Wellness program is adapting key programming to expand access to social and emotional support resources as well as helping schools meet the unique nutritional needs of their students.

In normal school years, the program focuses on providing tools to support healthier school environments with specific elements geared toward nutrition, movement and mental health. That’s all still available but this year, all Michigan schools are eligible to apply, even if they previously participated in a Building Healthy Communities program. Available resources can be offered directly in the classroom or through a virtual learning format.

“Michigan schools, teachers and students are facing unprecedented needs. The program expansion and flexibility is designed to address the growing gaps in physical, mental, social and emotional needs of students and staff, no matter what back to school looks like,” said Lynda Rossi, executive vice president, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Recognizing a broad need to address mental health and well-being, grant funding from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund will also allow all schools to apply for social emotional learning resources, a component added in 2019. In May, Paul Liabenow, executive director, Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association, said an increased focus on social emotional learning would be critical to help address the trauma students have faced by having normal routines uprooted.

“Focusing on social and emotional learning and helping kids learn and practice skills around resilience, coping, courage and kindness will be more important than ever,” he said.

In addition to offering additional access to well-being resources, schools can apply for tools to help them provide school meals in ways that support social distancing and safety. With funding provided by the United Dairy Industry of Michigan, schools can choose mobile food carts, rolling coolers, milk crate bags or social distancing signage that supports meal delivery in whatever capacity a school is choosing to move forward with. The resources can support in-person meal delivery or schoolwide food distribution programs supporting virtual learners and their families.

The public-private partnership supporting the Building Healthy Communities programs has been expanded to include the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, who joins Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Michigan Department of Education, Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association, Michigan State University Extension, Michigan Fitness Foundation  and United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

More information can be found here. Applications are due Oct. 30 – the program is open to all public, charter or private nonprofit schools in Michigan serving any grade levels.  

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Photo credit: coscaron

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