LEE’S SUMMIT, Mo. — Lee’s Summit school counselors are creating change across the school district in the name of mental health.
One counselor at Lee’s Summit West High School said years of hard work are finally coming to fruition. She believes trained four-legged friends will make a “paws-itive” impact on students.
Now, the countdown is on. They’re days away from therapy dog Mia’s arrival.
“She’s here to help,” counselor Kerry Stites said.
Staff had to push change on district policy to get this clock ticking. Stites has been a counselor for seven years. Several years ago, she asked about getting the school a therapy dog.
High school can be “ruff,” and she said a trained therapy dog can make it a little easier for students in many ways.
“Ease anxiety, help with test taking, help with reading,” Stites explained. “If dogs can sometimes sense when people are upset, and they know when they need to lean into them and give them comfort and help them process feelings.”
But Stites quickly found out, therapy dogs were not allowed. Last year, principal Chad Hertzog asked Stites to be on a district team to look at reviewing the policy.
“It felt like something that was going to be a positive impact on our kids,” Hertzog said. “So I was all in at that point.”
Lee’s Summit approved the use of therapy dogs, and now one is allowed in each building.
“It’s seeing a dream come true,” Stites said. “Knowing what dogs can do for people, it’s pretty exciting.”
And the students are excited, too.
“It makes me feel warm and like loved and like want to be here,” freshman Addison Woody said, “and I feel like it makes my mental mindset happy.”
Woody and her mom can’t wait to meet Mia. She’s an Alaskan Husky Shepard mix
Stites is getting her from “Warriors Best Friend” in the Liberty area. There, all dogs come from shelters, according to Stites.
“Then they train them, and then they pair them once they learn their mannerisms and what kind of personalities they have and what would be best fits for schools,” she said.
The district wouldn’t provide the funds for the therapy dogs, so Stites started a GoFundMe page.
Already in the district, there are therapy dogs at Hawthorn Hill and Westview Elementary Schools. Stites has training with Mia next week, then the dog starts as a Titan staff member on Halloween.
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