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

(GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Sep. 7, 2023) 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.

“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 partner with Priority Health to place a dog in Muskegon Public Schools to work with students with a variety of academic, social and emotional needs. We look forward to placing additional facility dogs in other districts in the coming months.”

The Priority Pup facility dogs will be placed with in-district handlers and will be trained by Canines for Change based on the needs of each school.

Priority Health also supports River Rouge animal intervention program

In addition to Priority Pups™, Priority Health has invested in a similar program in Southeast Michigan.

On August 18, Priority Health presented a $12,000 check to the River Rouge School District in Wayne County to support its Animal Assisted Interventions Program.

“The River Rouge School District has been steadfast in our mission to eliminate the most significant challenges for children who are educated in schools serving high poverty communities,” said Dr. Derrick Coleman, superintendent of River Rouge School District. “What we have come to understand is our success is predicated on our ability to successfully address the wide range of traumas experienced by the students, and the adults entrusted to their care. We will not use poverty as an excuse and it’s through the philanthropic efforts of organizations like Priority Health that make this work possible.”

Priority Pups™ is a new signature program of Priority Health for Good, Priority Health’s corporate responsibility initiative. For more information about Priority Pups™, visit

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