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Education: Friends With Paws could benefit students | News, Sports, Jobs

West Virginia students are facing challenges most earlier generations simply cannot imagine. Our state is in the same backward-looking economic slog it has been in for nearly 100 years, that’s true; but because of those decades of financial hopelessness, combined with a stubborn clinging to socio-cultural norms that should have been tossed aside eons ago, kids have it tougher.

Pile onto that a 10-year-old substance abuse epidemic that is only evolving; and a pandemic that changed the way they learn and see the world — if it hasn’t redrawn their families entirely. While we’re at it, let’s talk about how different it is for them growing up in a world where social media is nearly omnipresent; and too many of them “adults” in their lives feel free to engage in vicious efforts to foment division and hate.

For an upsetting number of Mountain State kids, school is their safe haven. That is why it is so important to find new ways to ensure they do not feel simply physically safe, but supported in terms of their mental and emotional well-being. First Lady Cathy Justice’s Friends With Paws program is a wonderful example. It provides therapy dogs for schools, and most recently brought two Labrador Retrievers to elementary schools in the Eastern Panhandle.

“This is a wonderful day for our students,” Justice said earlier this week. “Shadow and Jet will receive so much love at these schools, and in return, what they are able to give back in emotional support for students suffering from trauma will be invaluable.”

Before anyone complains that students should be focused on traditional academics, one principal reminds us the dogs will make a difference there, too.

“The greatest benefit of having Shadow at Moorefield Elementary School is the effect on students’ social-emotional development,” said Wade Armentrout, principal of Moorefield Elementary School. “Our students and staff have already bonded with Shadow. Interacting with Shadow will improve students’ reading skills, stimulate memory and problem-solving skills, and even improve motor skills.”

Friends With Paws is working to identify those schools where a therapy dog ​​is most needed now. Those who are working to broaden the reach of the program are to be commended. And if these animals do, indeed, turn out to be the students’ best friend, education officials might want to take a look at whether ALL Mountain State schools could use a helping paw.


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