Originally published May 7, 2019 in UPMatters.

Michigan K-12 schools are invited to apply for an innovative program that provides students, teachers and administrators with the necessary tools to create a healthier school environment for the 2019-2020 school year. The program empowers and educates children to improve nutrition, increase physical activity and address mental health and well-being.

From now until 5 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 30, schools can apply for Building Healthy Communities: Step Up for School Wellness, one of three options under the successful Building Healthy Communities program.

PortageOver the last 10 years, this evidence-based, comprehensive, school-wide initiative has resulted in students eating 40 percent more fruits and vegetables than the national average for six to 11-year-olds, spending 19 minutes less time on screens and video per day and 35 additional minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week. New this year, the program will address mental health and well-being. The resources offered will 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.

“As we celebrate our 80th anniversary, Blue Cross is grateful to our dedicated Building Healthy Communities partners and all those who continue to advocate for improving children’s health in our state,” said Lynda Rossi, executive vice president, Government, Strategy and Public Affairs for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “We look forward to empowering more students and faculty to create healthier school environments in a way that caters to their specific needs and goals.”

Participating schools will be provided with training, equipment, materials and other resources to implement and sustain environmental change, student activities and knowledge and skills-building that encourage healthy eating, physical activity, mental health and well-being. The program is uniquely customized to meet the needs of each school. Schools can choose from classroom physical activity breaks, active recess, quality physical education, walk-n-run fun, healthy out-of-school time, healthy beverages, smarter lunchrooms, healthy parties, celebrations and nutrition education, social and emotional learning health education, social and emotional learning staff education and staff well-being.

Building Healthy Communities: Step Up for School Wellness is supported by multiple statewide organizations, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Michigan Department of Education, Michigan Fitness Foundation, Michigan State University Extension, Michigan Team Nutrition, United Dairy Industry of Michigan, and Action for Healthy Kids.

All public, charter and private nonprofit schools in the state are encouraged to review the full program description and eligibility information. Interested schools can join an informational webinar on the program at 10 a.m. on May 1 or Sept. 13. For more information on the program, to register for the webinar or to submit the online application visitbuildinghealthycommunities.arewehealthy.com. The deadline for applying is 5 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 30. Selected schools will be announced and begin the program in October 2019.

Building Healthy Communities has since been embraced by more than 750 schools across the state, helping more than 340,000 students develop better habits and live healthier lives.

Robert Gordon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said, “We are excited about another year of Building Healthy Communities programming. Program results indicate that BHC: Step Up for School Wellness, based on the Michigan Steps to a Healthy School, is a replicable model both for schools preparing for change and those ready to use the evidence-based and practice-tested tools we offer to create healthy school environments.”

“With MDE’s focus on becoming a top 10 education state, one of our priorities is to support the whole child,” said Diane L. Golzynski, PhD, RD, Director, Office of Health and Nutrition Services at the Michigan Department of Education. “The addition of social emotional learning helps schools to understand the critical importance of those skills and how they transfer to all knowledge provided in their academic coursework. MDE applauds the Building Healthy Communities program for recognizing this critical element.”

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Michigan K-12 schools invited to apply for innovative wellness program
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