Labor Day is in the rearview mirror, which means Idaho schools are back in session. It’s always an exciting time for children, families, teachers, and everyone impacted by school.

Here’s the truth: everyone is impacted by schools. Schools impact the health of our communities. In our state’s rural areas, schools are the hub of activity and play a huge role in fostering community.

Jackie Yarbrough is a senior program officer at the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health.

The Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health is dedicated to giving back to Idaho and addressing the root causes that impact health. We recognize the important roles that schools play in building healthy communities and the future of Idaho. We’re in Idaho for Idaho and that’s why we work to remove barriers to education and engage with schools, communities and organizations.

I’m incredibly proud of the work in education that we’re leading at the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health. My role as a senior program officer allows me to help build a healthier Idaho and a healthier future for our children and families.

As a native Idahoan who grew up and attended school in rural Idaho, I’m extremely passionate about ensuring all children have what they need to succeed. I worked as a school social worker for 10 years and have held other roles where I’ve seen and experienced how schools make a positive difference in the lives of children, families, and communities.

From early childhood education through helping Idaho high school graduates continue their post-secondary education, we are committed to help Idaho students at every level reach their full potential.

Here’s how we are helping Idaho students, schools, districts and communities:

Early Childhood Education

We’ve helped two school districts — Castleford and Homedale — launch early childhood education programs. Our support allowed the Nezperce school district to expand its current program from three days a week to five. These programs are designed to help prepare children for kindergarten.

We’ve also supported the Lincoln County Youth Center, which offers preschool and an after-school program that serves children from Richfield, Shoshone and Dietrich.

Behavioral Health

We’ve helped more than 30 schools across Idaho establish the Healthy Minds Partnership. This program helps schools offer on-campus counseling services to students, which increases access to necessary care while eliminating barriers such as transportation. Parents don’t have to miss work to transport their children to appointments, and students miss fewer learning opportunities.

The districts with school-located behavioral health programs almost always expand them to other schools in the district because of how well they work. Under Idaho law, these school-located behavioral health services can be billed to private insurance or Medicaid, resulting in almost no expense for the school or district, which is another benefit to the districts.

Community Schools

Community Schools have operated in the Treasure Valley for several years, and we offer support for districts exploring the possibility becoming a community school.

What are community schools? Community schools are schools created to help all kids succeed. In Idaho, that means local school officials listen to parents and families to learn what additional resources are needed for kids to reach their full potential. Community schools connect students to those services as needed in a school setting. That could mean healthcare, before- and after-school programming or addressing food insecurity.

We’ve partnered with the Idaho Coalition for Community Schools to provide training and technical assistance opportunities to schools and expand community schools statewide. We and additional partners are currently funding seven school districts — Cascade, Coeur d’Alene, Homedale, Jefferson County, Minidoka, Mountain Home and Notus — to hire staff and implement and expand their Community Schools Strategy.

Scholarship Programs

We’ve funded scholarship programs with many Idaho colleges and universities. Many of these programs are designed to support students who are majoring in healthcare-related fields or are in medical school.

Our state has a healthcare workforce shortage. There aren’t enough doctors, nurses and other important healthcare workers in Idaho, especially remote parts of the state. We’re hoping these multiyear scholarship programs with the College of Idaho, University of Idaho, Idaho WWAMI Medical Education, and Idaho State University and will help address these workforce challenges.