Therapy Dogs Put High Schoolers at Ease
Therapy dogs have been used in several situations, from helping ease someone's nerves at the airport to letting a loved one at the hospital cope with loss. Now, therapy dogs are being used to help stressed out high schoolers.
According to CBS News, adolescents at the Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale, New Jersey, got to hang out with some therapy dogs right before their finals week, a notoriously frantic time.
A growing trend
It is becoming increasingly common to send therapy dogs to college campuses, where students may miss their own canine companions at home. USA Today noted that colleges such as Emory University, the University of California-San Francisco, Yale University and Kent State University have all begun hosting therapy dogs regularly on their campuses for stressed out students. The aspiring scholars responded well to these visits, allowing them to take a break from their studying or reading and relax with a few furry friends. Because of the positive impact at a few universities, several colleges and educational institutions nationwide invite local therapy dog organizations to help alleviate student stress on their campuses. Yet it is less common to see therapy dogs roaming the halls or sitting on the fields of a high school. Why is this?
It may be because some believe that high school students are under less stress than college or graduate students, who often are far away from comforts of their own homes. Yet for the Northern Highlands Regional High School, students' stress deserves to be acknowledged according to the school's administrators. The administrators argue that while freshman may not be under a lot of pressure, many junior and senior students are. During these times, students strive to achieve perfect scores on standardized tests such as the SATs and the ACTs, boost GPAs and get into the colleges of their dreams. For some, if these goals are not fulfilled, it can be heartbreaking. So inviting dogs to campus for this group may help stressed out adolescents relax.
According to psychologist Jeff Gardere, Ph.D., "We have to understand it's a different generation, and we are relying a lot more and perhaps unnecessarily on standardized tests," he said. "And so the stress is much, much more than it's ever been."
For some, planning for college begins freshman year. Students may begin to participate in several clubs and sports teams, all while managing a full load of classes. Keeping it all together can really make students feel "stretched out," as the Marching Band Director Teddi Sotiropoulos put it.
Sotiropoulos gave a helping hand in getting the therapy dog program off the ground. He has seen his fair share of students worried about their final exams, which counts for 15 percent of their grade.
A warm welcome
Inviting canines to the school is not only helping students, it may be helping administrators too. Principal Joe Occhino admitted to the news source that he asked if he could have a canine companion in the office for a week, instead of having to visit their gym where the dogs were stationed. Sadly his request was not fulfilled, but he still appreciated having the dogs around. He noted that he plans to make the therapy dog visits a regular thing for students, instead of just hosting them on finals week. Currently, there are no disadvantages to hosting the dogs.
All of the therapy dogs that visited the high school went through training with Kathy Santo, a dog trainer based out of Ramsey, New Jersey. Santo told CBS that although bringing dogs to school for finals week is common, she expects her group of dogs to travel to a few unexpected places as well. Aside from visiting local schools for stress relief, her group was also used to ease the trauma of students who experienced the Newtown shootings.