Spreading Joy in Schools With Furry Friends

Relieving student stress with therapy dogs


Jocelyn Augustino, FEMA public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Many colleges and universities are using Therapy Dogs during finals week to help comfort students and get their minds off of the rigors of testing and to help students handle stress. Some high schools, including a few in Massachusetts, have turned to comfort pets like this one used in Florida by FEMA following Hurricane Charley in 2004.

Nivetha Aravindan, Copy Editor

Students of all ages face stress due to a variety of factors that restrict their capacity to learn in school. This is only exacerbated when students reach high school as they learn to navigate through the adult world. Freshman are exposed to a larger academic work load and learn to balance their time between academics, athletics, and extracurricular activities. Sophomores must concentrate on preparing themselves for the new MCAS while juniors begin taking on rigorous AP courses and simultaneously study for the SAT’s. Seniors complete the college application process and are required to make important decisions for their future education and career. Many high school students also have part time jobs and the current issues regarding school safety can be quite overwhelming for many.

It is vital for schools to address the issue of rising stress levels and provide facilities to help students relax.”

— Nivetha Aravindan

“Student stress comes from all angles,” said Ms. Kathleen Posk, the school psychologist at Abington High School. It “is only exacerbated by things such as family issues, the unstable state of the world, and the unavoidable social media presence in their lives.  We then expect students to arrive to school, fresh and ready to learn. Kids don’t seem to have the luxury to just be kids, and it’s heartbreaking that it is considered a ‘luxury.'”  These challenges apply to not only high school students, but to students of all ages.

It is vital for schools to address the issue of rising stress levels and provide facilities to help students relax. Abington High School currently has a great school psychologist and great guidance counselors for students to speak with. The new course offerings in physical education that are set to begin in the 2018-2019 school year will provide a fun way for students to take their minds off of their busy schedules during the school day. However, since many students continue to be very stressed out, other schools in Massachusetts have introduced a new therapy that allows students to re-experience some of the simple joys of life.

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Therapy dogs are used in hospitals, nursing homes, disaster areas, hospices, and even colleges during finals week to bring comfort and happiness to those around them.

This past January, Danvers High School allowed therapy dogs to visit the school during midterms week to help students alleviate exam stress. DanversCARES, a community coalition dedicated to supporting youth and families make healthy decisions, piloted a program to bring therapy dogs into Danvers High School as a method to prevent marijuana use for stress relief. In addition, Marshfield Public Schools have introduced a nine-week old German Shepherd puppy at the start of the 2017-2018 school year to provide emotional support for students throughout the community.

DOG B.O.N.E.S, a nonprofit organization that provides therapy dogs to areas throughout Massachusetts, established a program in which children can improve their reading skills by reading a book out loud to a therapy dog. Hingham Public Schools and South School in Stoughton implemented the program in their elementary school classrooms. This method allows children to become more confident in their reading skills, as they do not have to fear what classmates may say if they mispronounce words or feel insecure about the fluency of their reading.

“The idea of therapy dogs or any type of animal therapy is simply wonderful,” said Ms. Posk.  “It’s a way to take advantage of a natural connection that people have to animals, and for a moment in time, escape from the stressors of life.” The implementation of therapy dogs in schools has the potential to greatly promote learning among students of all age groups by creating an educational atmosphere that is friendly and stress free.

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