Liberty Schools support students through pandemic with social worker, therapy dog

Local News

While Pawss has been a school staple for nearly four years, her owner knew she would play an even bigger role this year

LIBERTY TWP., Ohio (WYTV) – Liberty Local School District has strengthened its support for students and families during the pandemic by using school counselors. One of them has been at the school for years, but the faculty knew she’d play an even bigger role this year.

Liberty Local Schools has partnered with Cadence Care Network and the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board to bring a social worker into the schools, along with a therapy dog, Pawss.

“Liberty is committed to utilizing multiple resources to support the social and emotional needs of students and adults to address the challenges that this year has laid before us,” said Interim Superintendent Dr. Andy Tommelleo. “Additionally, enlisting support from a four-legged friend, Pawss, has provided a sense of normalcy from day one, and that has added a unique source of comfort that only a therapy pet can provide.”

While Pawss has been a school staple for nearly four years, owner Kristie Sallee — who is also the district’s PK-6 school counselor — knew she would play an even bigger role this year.

“I am so glad we are able to have Pawss here in the midst of the pandemic.  I think it would have been devastating to our kids if she wasn’t here. She provides so much comfort, reassurance and joy to our kids, and they certainly can use more of that this year,” Sallee said.

She said the need is greater this year. Anxiety are higher among students and their parents. In the younger grades, she said some students have expressed feeling isolated and sad about being unable to interact with their friends.

“When students express these emotions to us, we immediately work on things to help them overcome those feelings. For example, if a student is sad they are unable to see their friends, we may arrange a virtual meeting so that they can talk and interact with each other. We really try to provide as many experiences as we can to make our kids feel comfortable,” Sallee said.

At the high school, some students have expressed feeling withdrawn and sad about missing out on important high school experiences.

“Behavioral health education and support are vital in our schools. Students are faced with many issues that impact their learning, including issues at home, in the community and in their schools. In my role here at Liberty, it’s my goal to build resiliency and improve social and emotional health among students,” said school social worker Kristen Coonce.

Liberty Local Schools recently applied for a grant to expand its partnership with Cadence Care Network. Pending approval of the grant, Liberty Local Schools will be able to increase the number of days Coonce is in the district from three to five.

“As COVID-19 continues to provide challenges to our day-to-day functioning, we believe it is critical to increase intervention and support for both adults and students. Utilizing grant funding will help meet those challenges,” Tommelleo said.

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Mel Robbins Main Area Middle

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