Godwin Heights Public Schools receives a Priority Pups™ support dog to aid student mental health  

(GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — April 10, 2024) Priority Health, a nationally recognized nonprofit health plan serving more than 1.3 million members, continues its mission of supporting student mental health with the placement of a Priority Pup at Godwin Heights Public Schools in Wyoming, Michigan. Meeka, a black goldendoodle facility dog, now supports the 385 students at North Godwin Elementary School. 
From greeting students as they walk into school to comforting them when they are feeling big emotions, Meeka is there for them throughout the day. “We are teaching students strategies to use when they feel dysregulated in their brains and bodies and what that looks like for them,” said Kaleigh Salata, Meeka’s handler and a social worker at North Godwin. “We’ve been able to use Meeka to support the de-escalation and make it last a shorter period of time.” 
To help reduce anxiety and support learning, Priority Health and Canines for Change developed Priority Pups™, which launched in September 2023. Priority Health is investing in five highly trained working facility dogs in select Michigan school districts over two years with the potential to scale the program in the future.  
“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 Rick Abbott, senior vice president of employer solutions at Priority Health. “We know education gives children the tools to lead fulfilling lives, thrive personally and contribute to their communities.  Meeka is already making an impact and helping to improve students' lives at North Godwin Elementary School.” 
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 reduced stress levels. 
“North Godwin appreciates the generosity of Priority Health and Canines for Change for placing a facility dog in our building,” said Steve Minard, principal of North Godwin Elementary School.  “Meeka's presence is bringing comfort and help to support our students' ever-growing social and emotional needs.” 
Meeka was trained and certified with her handler, Kaleigh Salata. As a team, Meeka and Kaleigh will work together to support students in successfully developing social-emotional tools and incorporate Meeka into the school’s positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS). 
“The animal-human bond has been proven to benefit a person’s mental and physical health in many ways,” said Dr. Nikki Brown, Ph.D., executive director of Canines for Change. “We’re excited to have partnered with Priority Health to place Meeka in Godwin Heights Public Schools to work with students with a variety of academic, social and emotional needs.” 
Meeka is the second Priority Pup to be placed; Muskegon Public Schools was the first school district to receive a Priority Pup, Scout, a goldendoodle facility dog. 
Priority Pups™ is a signature program of Priority Health for Good, Priority Health’s corporate responsibility initiative. For more information about Priority Pups™, visit priorityhealth.com/prioritypups.     

About Priority Health:

With over 30 years in business, Priority Health is the second largest health plan in Michigan, offering an extensive portfolio of health benefits options for employer groups and individuals, including Medicare and Medicaid plans. Serving more than 1.3 million members each year and offering a broad network of primary care physicians in Michigan, Priority Health continues to be recognized as a leader for quality, customer service, transparency and product innovation. Learn more about affordable, quality health coverage options from Priority Health