Michigan Association of Health Plans

Priority Health launches Priority Pups signature program to support student mental health

This press release is from Priority Health. Read more here

More than half of parents in Michigan say they are concerned about the mental state of their children. To help reduce anxiety and encourage learning for students, Priority Health has developed a program with Canines for Change, called Priority Pups™. Priority Health will invest in five highly trained working facility dogs over the next several months to place in select Michigan school districts with the potential to scale the program.

“Education quality is a social determinant of health, and we believe that every child deserves the right to a healthy learning experience and their mental health plays a crucial role in this,” said Praveen Thadani, president of Priority Health. “We know education gives children the tools they need to lead fulfilling lives, thrive personally and contribute to their communities. Through this program, in partnership with schools, we can make a tangible impact on the mental health of Michigan students and enhance the learning experience for students and teachers.”

Research shows there are social-emotional benefits for children who interact with support animals during the school day. Benefits include a growth in confidence levels, improvement in reading and problem-solving skills, and a reduction in stress levels.

Muskegon Public Schools is the first school district to receive a Priority Pup. Scout, a goldendoodle facility dog, will now call Muskegon home.

“Muskegon Public Schools (MPS) is elated by our new partnership with the Priority Pups™ program. Being the first school district to receive a Priority Pup is an example of the importance that MPS places on the social and emotional wellness of our students and staff,” said Matthew Cortez, superintendent of Muskegon Public Schools. “Scout, our newest staff member, will contribute to a more relaxed and positive learning environment for our students. MPS will continue to build these positive community-based relationships that develop our 21st century learning environments for our students and staff.”

Priority Pups like Scout are trained to follow commands like service dogs, but their training is tailored to the specific needs of the school they are placed in. For example, in elementary schools, these dogs provide comfort to young students who may be homesick and can also help struggling readers feel more at ease during class.

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