Building Healthy Communities Program Expanded to Meet Unique, Changing Educational Needs

Meghan O'Brien

| 4 min read

DETROIT, Sep. 9, 2020 — The Building Healthy Communities: Step Up for School Wellness program today announced innovative programming and eligibility expansions to help meet the needs of Michigan schools and students as they gear up for a safe return to the new school year. The Building Healthy Communities: Step Up for School Wellness program is an innovative program that provides students, teachers and administrators with the necessary tools to create a healthier school environment. The program empowers and educates children to improve nutrition, increase physical activity and address mental health and well-being, building lifelong habits. “As students and teachers return to school, the Building Healthy Communities program is a set of resources tested by schools across the state and adapted to this unprecedented time that will support school wellness teams to continue to support building-wide wellness. This free program is easy for teachers and schools to use and provides resources that build and reinforce healthy habit building and healthy living,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and MDHHS chief deputy for Health, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The public-private partnership supporting the Building Healthy Communities programs has been expanded to include the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, which 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. Under the expansion, all Michigan schools are eligible to apply, even if they previously participated in a Building Healthy Communities program. The program now provides resources that can be offered directly in the classroom or through a virtual format. “Michigan schools, teachers and students are facing unprecedented needs,” said Lynda Rossi, executive vice president of Government, Strategy and Public Affairs for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “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.” A key resource available for schools to apply for under the program supports school’s efforts to address the mental health and well-being of students and staff. Thanks to a significant grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, schools can apply for social emotional learning, which will allow more schools and students to be reached through the program and expand the opportunity to address mental health and well-being. The resources will help empower students and staff to better understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. “Building Health Communities is a program with proven success, and we are pleased to partner to deliver the much-needed social and emotional learning and well-being resources at a time when they are needed the most,” said Becky Cienki, director, Behavioral Health, Michigan Health Endowment Fund. “When social and emotional skills are a focus in the classroom, students have more capacity to learn and achieve success both personally and academically.” Another key resource new to the program is provided by the United Dairy Industry of Michigan. The support will increase access to school meals by providing options to transport meals safely to students while addressing the evolving mode of delivery for school meals. Schools can choose options that best support mobile meal delivery and their existing school meal capacity. Examples include mobile food carts, rolling coolers, milk crate bags or even social distancing signage. “Michigan’s dairy farmers are proud to support our school food service departments working tirelessly to feed our children during a challenging time. Our school food service leaders have risen to the occasion time and time again and continue to deliver nutritious and delicious meals to ensure kids are well fed and ready to learn,” said Cortney Freeland, MPH, manager, Education & Community Partnerships, United Dairy Industry of Michigan. Paul Liabenow, executive director of Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association, said, "MEMSPA is pleased to partner with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan along with other state organizations to provide valuable health and wellness resources for Michigan’s students. A revived focus on the “Whole Child” and improving the physical health, safety and well-being of students and staff is aligned with the mission and vision of MEMSPA. It's a team effort and we are better working together.” Applications are due October 30. School leaders can review the full program and apply at: The program is open to ALL public, charter or private nonprofit schools in Michigan serving any grade levels. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit mutual insurance company, is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. BCBSM provides health benefits to more than 4.7 million members residing in Michigan in addition to employees of Michigan-headquartered companies residing outside the state. The company has been committed to delivering affordable health care products through a broad variety of plans for businesses, individuals and seniors for 80 years. Beyond health care coverage, BCBSM supports impactful community initiatives and provides leadership in improving health care. For more information, visit and
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association