Minford High School was visited by a therapy dog on January 8, 2016.
An 11-year-old yellow lab named Bella was brought in to help students express their grief and concerns over the death of sophomore student, Kristina “Mykal” Newsome.
Bella, along with Crisis Response counselors Lori Morgan and Renee Hauler worked with Minford’s guidance counselor Sindee Williams to devise a plan that would address the needs of the students and staff in the weeks and months to come following this incident.
“The job of a therapy dog is to bring emotional support and help people feel better, they tend to work a little magic” said Crisis Response counselor Lori Morgan. “Having the therapy dog there is really reassuring, kids tend to share a little bit more, and she helps them feel safe and secure. In Crisis Response, after there’s been a tragedy or crisis, it’s important to promote safety and security. Before anyone can really process what they’re feeling they’ve got to feel safe and the dogs really promote that.”
Bella is a seasoned veteran when it comes it comfort. She’s retired from the Children’s Hospital Doggie Brigade, where she spent 10 years volunteering as a therapy dog.
“She helps people to relax and open up. I’ve had more people approach me because they want to see the dog, said Morgan. “People will ask, “What’s her name? What’s she here for? Where are you from?” And then I can start with talking to them about their dog at home or family at home, and how their family is reacting to the situation and how they’re reacting to what’s going on. Ultimately they feel comfortable and relaxed and start to be more open and you’re able to do the counseling that is needed. She helps in making connections, and building trust. “
Both Morgan and Hauler have been trained in Crisis Response through the National Organization of Victim Assistance (NOVA). Morgan has had 15 years of experience, assisting with 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, along with national and local tragedies.
“Therapy dogs in schools have become much more prevalent since I started 21 years ago with a therapy in my classroom, it wasn’t that common when I started” Morgan said. “now it’s much more common and accepted. Now parents are open to it, and kids know about it, they know what the dogs are here for and they have an idea of what is going on.”
In addition Bella’s visit, students also find support within their “Falcon Families.”
“Falcon Families is an adviser/advisee group, where each teacher has a designated 14-15 students that they meet with every day. It started a few years back and the groups only met every other Friday. We didn’t get to spend as much time with it as we would’ve liked. By the request of the students and the teachers, we’ve now worked it into our daily schedule,” said Williams, “During that time, the teachers oversee those particular students and let them know they have someone who cares and someone they can come talk to. It’s something that we’ve been doing, but when it comes to times like this, it’s additional time that the kids have support this week. When something like this happens, the last thing they’re going to be focusing on is academics. It just builds into that time that they can share and grieve.”
The school says it will do all it can to provide for the staff and students during this difficult time.
Bella visting with students.
Reach Ciara R. Williams at 740-353-3101 or via email at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @PDT_Ciara