Story by Kane Mach, Assistant Principal, Stillwater Junior High School
Stillwater Public Schools is excited to continue and grow its comprehensive Paws for Pioneers School Therapy Dog Program during the 2021-2022 school year. The program is in its fifth year of operation and has four nationally certified and well-trained dogs working across the district. The Paws for Pioneers mission is to provide emotional, social, and academic support through the introduction of and interaction with therapy certified dogs in Stillwater Public Schools. Through this program students, teachers, and guests have the opportunity to experience the benefits, both anticipated and unexpected, of interacting with therapy dogs.
Why dogs in schools you might ask? Research strongly indicates that school therapy dogs can help reduce the effects of trauma, anxiety, and stress in students/staff, significantly increase academic achievement, improve student behaviors, increase school attendance, and build confidence and social skills. Beyond the research, the happiness on our student’s faces as they interact with our dogs is heartwarming to all of us that work with Paws for Pioneers.
Stillwater Junior High School (SJHS) is honored to be home to two of the district’s therapy dogs – Ruger, an Australian shepherd, with Mrs. Knott, our 9th grade science teacher, and my black lab border collie mix, Junee, who we call the “Assistant to the Assistant Principal.” At SJHS, students have the voluntary option to interact with these therapy dogs before and after school, over lunch, recess, and during many of their classes throughout the day. Our students are able to meet, pet, play with, walk, complete homework alongside, and even read to our school therapy dogs. Junee and Ruger provide students, staff, and community members a safe and positive experience that allows them to be themselves, talk through stressful situations, provide a calm presence in times of heightened anxiety, and help make school fun!
One of our amazing 9th grade students Bela Coca had this to say: “I think having Junee at school is amazing for me and for the other students. She gives me a smile on my face everytime I see her. She makes me feel more motivated to be at school, to do my work, and to just have a great day. I myself have a puppy like Junee so having her at school makes me feel like I’m at home with mine and that helps make school feel like such a great place to be.”
SPS staff members looking to help expand the program and anyone seeking more information about the program can learn more at ttps://www.stillwaterschools.com/District/PawsforPioneers.