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Birchwood Elementary School

Comfort animals help students deal with stress and anxiety

durée 16h44
15 mai 2023
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Par John Jantak, Journaliste

An innovative program that uses animals to help elementary school students deal with stress and anxiety has become very successful since its launch two years ago at Birchwood Elementary School in St. Lazare.

Sully is a two-and-a half year old mixed-breed rescue dog who has been at Birchwood for almost two years now. His owner is school principal Brigitte Valois.

"He's a well-trained and sweet-natured empathetic dog with good instincts who knows who to go to when a child needs comfort," said Valois. 

His mentor was another comfort dog at Birchwood named Cricket who passed away last year. During the nine months he spent with Cricket, Sully learned important skills regarding how to behave and interact around children.

"He transitioned into his new role very well and Sully has been fulfilling his duties for over one year now. He'was introduced to school environments slowly, starting one day a week, and then two, and now Sully is on site three days a week," said Valois.

While Cricket's passing was emotionally difficult for the pupils and staff, the students learned about the importance of dealing with death and expressing their grief properly.  

"Conversations about grief are important but rare. This is a safe way to have these conversatons. Students offered their condolences and some talked about their own experiences with death when they lost a pet or family member," said Valois.

Sometimes parents are concerned about issues regarding allergies and a child's fear of animals, but they are always introduced to Sully to allay any fears they may have. 

Sully was introduced to the staff and students at Birchwood after Valois received approval to go ahead with a short trial run from Lester B. Pearson School Board officials. 

"After that, the school board became my biggest supporters. They've been sitting front row at conferences when I speak about the subject. Principals from other schools have been adopting the program too. There hasn't been any pushback from anyone," said Valois.

"I've been working on this for a long time and I'm very passionate about it. It's given me the chance to speak at two different conferences and I've met with principals from around the world to talk about the benefits of having animals in schools," she said.

Sully is a part of an animal menagerie at the school that includes a Rex rabbit and small chicks. The are cared for by Nathalie Mancuso, an educator who has been teaching for 33 years. "This morning two ducklings hatched," said Mancuso.

 

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