HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — Holland Public School district was selected as part of a statewide program that focuses on reducing health disparities within elementary schools.

“A lot of our students do have food insecurities and that is across the district as well. So we’re really trying to improve their access to food,” said Community School Coordinator Caity DeBoard.

Building Health Communities was founded 15 years ago as part of a partnership between Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Michigan Health Endowment Fund, the Michigan Fitness Foundation, the United Dairy Industry of Michigan and Wayne State University’s Center for Health and Community Impact.

Holland is one of six school districts selected this year. Its four elementary schools all received new physical education equipment, a playground cart, food assistance and lessons plans that teachers can easily implement in their classrooms.

Fifth grade teacher Stephanie Updegraff said in all of her years of teaching at Jefferson Elementary, she’s never thought of talking to her students about what healthy plate, snack and food options look like.

“It really taught the kids what their plates should be looking like and they were asking where Takis and Hot Cheetos fit in, and we talked about how they don’t fit in,” Updegraff said. “That those are great snacks and extras but they need to make sure they’re getting their proteins, their carbs and their dairy and their fruits and their veggies in.”

Director of the Center for Health and Community Impact Dr. Nate McCaughtry said that they found students’ physical wellness not only benefited from the program, but also attendance and behavior.

“Children who attend schools where building health communities is implemented have far reduced or greater reduced obesity or overweight trajectories. Which is very important in this young population because they’re setting their life trajectory in those areas,” he said. “Increased physical activity. Increased healthy eating. And here are a couple of variables that are super interesting: Increase student attendance by 11%. That’s the No. 1 predictor of overall school success. Less behavioral incident.”