Therapy Dogs Make a Difference at Orchard Park
Students and Staff Helping Orchard Park Students and Society (SSHOPSS), under the guidance of OP Teacher Librarian Julie Boudreau, made mental well-being a priority by planning activities for Mental Health Awareness Month. Events included Q&A sessions for transitioning students in senior grades, a mental health speaker for staff, yoga, and pet therapy. The goal was to teach positive strategies to cope with stress.
The most popular activity was pet therapy, when St. John’s Ambulance brought in therapy dogs for students to interact with.
Boudreau even coordinated with another teacher to bring therapy dogs to a classroom just before students were to write an important calculus test. Doing so relieved an immense amount of stress for those students.
“Bringing in therapy dogs was one of the best things I have ever done in 25 years in terms of the impact it had on students,” said Boudreau. “The positive comments students shared after therapy dog sessions were amazing.”
Boudreau, alongside Cheryl Farr, OP’s Public Health Nurse, worked to ensure the focus was on improving well-being.
“We put the focus on mental well-being,” said Farr. “We tried giving students strategies to take care of their minds the same way they take care of the rest of their body.”
Boudreau also set up a calming space in the school’s Learning Commons, with soothing sounds, dim lighting, comfortable seating, colouring, and stress balls.
After seeing the positive impact the activities had on students, Boudreau hopes to incorporate well-being strategies more often throughout the school year. She also plans to continue therapy dog sessions once a week for the last month of each semester to proactively practice well-being.
“It’s not just about counselling the student that is in crisis, it’s about focusing on all of the population,” said Boudreau. “Everybody has something going on. Focusing on well-being can help with prevention.”