Grant Helps River Rouge Teen Health Center Implement Health Education Programs

Julie Bitely

| 4 min read

A new teen health center located inside River Rouge High School has been busy since opening its doors in early November. The center serves young people ages ten through 21, or up to 26 for students with special needs. Setting up shop in the high school is important in an area where families are often grappling with a lack of resources, said Jeff Cook, Director of Child & Adolescent Health at Beaumont, the health system overseeing the clinic. Over 90 percent of students in the River Rouge district qualify for free and reduced lunches, an indicator for a high rate of poverty in the community. Nearly 40 percent of students reported they did not see a doctor or health care provider for a checkup or physical exam when they were not sick or injured in the past 12 months. Cook said families often rely on emergency care for routine health needs, something he’s optimistic the clinic will help change. “A lot of families don’t have primary care physicians and don’t have those relationships,” he said.
The teen health center lobby at River Rouge. Along with routine services such as immunizations and school wellness checks, the clinic will provide care for acute illnesses such as the flu and chronic conditions including asthma and diabetes. A $50,000 grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation will also allow for the implementation of nutrition and obesity-prevention programs. Cook said planned nutrition classes and one-on-one counseling to combat obesity mark a distinct shift in health care philosophy. Instead of waiting for patients to come to them sick, Cook said there’s opportunity with the clinic to start kids out on a healthier path to begin with. He points to evidence that schools with clinics tend to have better attendance rates and test scores. “These kids that have regular access to health care just function better and do better in school,” Cook said. “Without these clinics here, these kids just would not have access to care, the prevention, the support, and the services that are really, truly needed to help them be successful in school.” Registered dietician Rhonda Freeman will split her time between River Rouge and another teen health center, along with shifts at Beaumont Hospital. She said she’s getting to know students and staff at River Rouge and is working to implement nutrition segments in already established health classes at the school. Freeman has been busy polling students to determine the best-case scenario for a voluntary afterschool program where nutrition, healthy living, and exercise will be the main focus areas. In her work at similar clinics, Freeman said she never focuses on losing weight with teens, but rather, what it takes to be healthy.
The teen center's office at River Rouge. She said kids are bombarded with bad information they’ve received from peers, social media, and other sources. Part of her job is correcting misconceptions about fad diets and other approaches that simply don’t work long term. Students work with Freeman to identify their goals, which they commit and agree to in writing. For her, the best part of the job is watching a healthy lifestyle take root in a young person. It might not have been the example they were given or how they were raised, but given the chance, there’s a real strong desire on the part of young people she’s coached. “They hear you and they are willing,” Freeman said. Cook said after the nutrition programs are fully implemented among the student population, he hopes to eventually open up community cooking classes and other health-related programming to inspire change in the entire community. The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation supports research and programs to improve the health of Michigan residents. No grant money comes from the premium payments of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan members. To learn more about BCBSM Foundation grant programs, visit If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
Photo credit: Jasleen Kaur
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association