Boca Raton school uses therapy dog to improve students’ mental health

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BOCA RATON, Fla. — Students at a Palm Beach County high school are making a positive impact as they work to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

So the sophomore at the Boca Raton school set out to make it happen.

“She’s like, Ms. Riedel, I promise, they’re going to love it. It’s going to be the best day ever. And then it literally was the best day ever,” said Paulette Riedel, the student government advisor at Spanish River Community High School.

The student government sold cookies and played music at lunch. But the best day ever, as Balsam had promised, was bringing a therapy dog ​​to campus.

“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,” Balsam said. “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.”

Student government leaders worked with a Broward County handler and trainer to bring the German Shepherd named Coco to the school.

Spanish River Community High School Student Government

A therapy dog ​​spends time with students at Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton on Feb. 18, 2022.


Fellow student leader Ethan Schwartz said the week’s activities helped the school address mental health in a new way.

“I think it’s important to talk about it in a good light,” Schwartz said. “Like, what to do to make yourself feel good instead of what to do when you feel bad.”

Lessons even more impactful after losing years of their high school experience and longing for those normal, happy days.

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

They learned that small, positive sparks can lead to 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,” Riedel said.

And help bring this school of sharks together.

“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,” Schwartz said.

The students at Spanish River Community High School will take their positive mental health project to a statewide competition for student governments at the end of March.