Washington Middle School Principal Gains State Recognition for Therapy Dog Program

A school principals highest priority is the education, health and welfare of students. Joel Asiala came up with a strategy for his students, starting a therapy dog program six years ago, when he was at Horizons Alternative School. It’s been successful there and at Washington Middle School where he is now. So he’s been helping educate other local area schools to begin their own program. His work got state recognition in Michigan Virtual’s BRIGHT series podcast. Leaders in education believe school systems need to hear about student mental health programs that work. Programs like Asiala’s are especially helpful because the need for emotional and mental support has risen dramatically in school settings since the pandemic. The CDC says during the last year over one third of high school students in the United States have had increased reports of mental health issues.
Kim ended up getting the dog certified as a therapy dog through Aspirus. And that was the start of the therapy dog program in our school. And we looked at being trauma informed, and that’s a big part of that. Where a kid feels welcome and wanted. And a dog, or any animal, can make you feel wanted. Especially if you’re an animal lover, which a lot of our kids are. – Joel Asiala, Principal, Washington Middle School
Asiala said having a pet in school has helped his students open up, grow and take responsibility. Research found that therapy animals offer a sense of calm when anxiety spikes. The presence of a pet can elevate a person’s mood, and help some regulate their emotions.
Kim ended up getting the dog certified as a therapy dog through Aspirus. And that was the start of the therapy dog program in our school. And we looked at being trauma informed, and that’s a big part of that. Where a kid feels welcome and wanted. And a dog, or any animal, can make you feel wanted. Especially if you’re an animal lover, which a lot of our kids are. – Joel Asiala, Principal, Washington Middle School
Asiala said having a pet in school has helped his students open up, grow and take responsibility. Research found that therapy animals offer a sense of calm when anxiety spikes. The presence of a pet can elevate a person’s mood, and help some regulate their emotions.
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