Published On: Thu, Mar 3rd, 2022

Therapy Dogs and Community for the Win

The world is full of events, news, and stressors that can negatively affect mental health. The COVID-19 pandemic saw a spike in mental health related issues, but students at a Palm Beach County high school are working to change that.

 “I’ve never really been taught as a student how to reach a positive mental state,” said Ava Balsam, a student at Spanish River Community High School. 

Ava decided to take the problem into her own hands and reached out to her teachers for help, according to Fox 29.

Ava approached Paulette Riedel, the student government advisor at Spanish River Community High School, with her idea. Ava said, “Ms. Riedel, I promise, they’re going to love it. It’s going to be the best day ever.”

Ms. Riedel encouraged the idea and noted, “It literally was the best day ever,” Ms. Riedel is the student government advisor at Spanish River Community High School. 

The student government did a few activities to help brighten their peers’ days such as selling cookies and playing music at lunch, reported Fox 29. But the best part was bringing a therapy dog to campus, providing lots of comfort to students in need, however there were other activities for those who were allergic to dogs. 

“It was very heartwarming because I had students look me in the eye and say, this made my day so much better. And that’s refreshing. I never see that. I had people sit there the whole lunch and say, I’m ready for my test now. This was a good day. I’m happy this happened”, Ava explained enthusiastically. 

Student government leaders worked with a handler to bring the German Shepherd, Coco, to the school.

Ethan Schwartz, a student leader, said the activities helped the school address mental health in a new way. “I think it’s important to talk about it in a good light. Like, what to do to make yourself feel good instead of what to do when you feel bad”, Ethan said. 

COVID-19 stripped many of experiences such as proms, seeings friends at school, and normal daily life. It left many feeling sad and unhappy. Days went from being connected to lonely. 

“After COVID-19 and after everything’s happened, those days are more scarce than they used to be,” Ava said. 

It’s one step at a time, and even a small step will lead to lasting change. 

“I’m a firm believer that even little things can go a long way to improve someone’s mental health and have the kids look forward to going to school,” Ms. Riedel said.

Community is everything, and these activities had most definitely brought a heightened sense of community. 

“Especially after COVID and all the isolation and online school, it’s really important that we get everyone back in school and really feeling like they are part of a community,” Ethan said to Fox 29.

The students will take their project to a statewide competition for student governments at the end of March, and hopefully make a lasting impact on the mental health of students nationwide.

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