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Schools therapy dog program helps students

April 2, 2020

District continues to seek ways to provide resources to students 

Officials in the Hopkins School District have been working to create accessible mental health resources for students. One of those initiatives is partnering with North Star Therapy Animals. Through that collaboration, the district brings therapy dogs to schools for students to interact with.

“Right now, the dogs are in the building one day a week, so North (Junior High) it’s usually on Mondays, West (Junior High) it’s usually on Tuesdays, at the high school we have Fridays,” said Terese Kunick, school psychologist. “Last year we had the dogs only come in maybe a handful times and they were only here at the high school, usually surrounding finals weeks.”

Having the dogs and their handlers coming in regularly contributes to the district’s goal of continuing to provide wellness resources.

“We actually started that last year with after school opportunities. We have a therapist that came between the hours of 2:45 and 4:30 [p.m.] to have individual appointments with students,” Kunick said. “A school social worker and a school psychologist are also available to be able to meet and do individual work with the kids.”

The therapy dog program has been positive, with students and staff engaging with the dogs whenever the animals are at the school.

“The students and staff absolutely love to come and visit with the dogs,” Kunick said. “We offer the opportunity to have whichever kids would be interested be able to come and interact with them.”

According to Kunick, the dogs have encouraged students to reach out for help just by being around.

“Oftentimes, dogs are the gateway,” Kunick said. “For Wilma, it’s definitely done that. She’s here every day with me.”

North Star Therapy Animals sends handlers with the animals to various organizations across the Twin Cities. Susan Goll, who is a Hopkins alum, regularly visits Hopkins schools with Beatrice, a therapy dog.

“The handlers also enjoy the opportunity to interact with the staff and students,” Kunick said. “So, it’s all-around a great opportunity for everybody.”

Another focus in expanding the wellness program in the district is to provide students with more opportunities to engage in activities that benefit mental health.

“There’s different opportunities for students to possibly do yoga or different wellness-related activities,” Kunick said. “We are also trying to expand for that afterschool piece to not only be individual appointments, but also once again more activities.”

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