Gulfport students learn lessons on mental health with help from therapy dogs

Published: Nov. 3, 2021 at 4:52 PM CDT
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Students at Gulfport High have been learning about coping mechanisms when it comes to stress, anxiety, depression and more. To help them in their lessons and provide support for whatever they may need, the school brought in the big dogs.... The big therapy dogs, that is.

Gulfport Behavioral Health visited the school with three therapy dogs to allow students to participate in an unique hands-on experience.

It all started when English teacher Katie White began reevaluating her curriculum. After overcoming COVID-19, she felt it was important to teach students coping methods to deal with the different experiences they each go through.

“I went through a lot of processes of grief. In that moment, I realized we’re not doing enough of social and emotional learning. I think that’s something that’s so incredibly valuable to our students, especially our young people,” White said. “We’re in a middle of a pandemic, we’re seeing trauma left and right. In our district, we talk about wanting to make leaders, and I figured what better way to arm future leaders than for them to identify grief, to be able to pull literature that supports that and to focus on the coping aspect of it.”

White’s English class completed a chapter discussing grief, depression, and anxiety. After that, the students were open to learning more about mental health and discussing their own experiences.

“In that first week, it changed the culture of my room. They were allowed to be vulnerable, they were allowed to talk about things if they wanted to. I came up with a lot of writing prompts that allowed them to write about emotions, people they’ve lost and things they’ve went through,” said White, “We were pulling literature to back it up, poetry to back it up. I noticed this shift where they were just willing to talk about it, and it was like they were given permission to talk about it.”

White said that students were so excited she had them write a persuasive letter to the school’s administration to request a visit from the therapy dogs. It’s those letters that brought the sweet emotional support pups to Gulfport High.

“They have been committed to doing the research. I’ve never seen a group of students so committed,” said White. “They’re researching things that they care about. They are committed to this cause and today was a really good glimpse.”

Watching the students play and interact with the dogs after hearing about their experiences in class was something White said she will never forget.

“When those dogs walked into that room, their faces lit up. It brought me to tears just seeing them, and to know I have little pieces of their stories and that something so simple can bring such joy. It’s a day in my classroom that we’ll never forget,” White said.

For more information on how your place of business can get a visit from the therapy dogs, click here.

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