West Virginia students face challenges that most previous generations simply cannot imagine. Our state has been in the same backward-looking economic slump for almost 100 years, it’s true; but because of these decades of financial desperation, combined with a stubborn attachment to socio-cultural norms that should have been abandoned eons ago, the children are having a harder time.
Add to that a 10-year-old drug addiction epidemic that is only evolving; and a pandemic that has changed the way they learn and see the world – if it hasn’t entirely redesigned their families. While we’re at it, let’s talk about how different it is for them to grow up in a world where social media is nearly ubiquitous; and too many “adults” in their lives, feel free to engage in vicious efforts to foment division and hatred.
For an overwhelming number of children in Mountain State, school is their refuge. That’s why it’s so important to find new ways to make sure they don’t just feel physically safe, but supported in terms of mental and emotional well-being. First Lady Cathy Justice’s Friends With Paws program is a wonderful example. He provides therapy dogs to schools and most recently brought two Labrador Retrievers to elementary schools in the Eastern Panhandle.
“It’s a wonderful day for our students” Justice said earlier this week. “Shadow and Jet will receive so much love at these schools, and in return, what they are able to give back in emotional support to students with trauma will be invaluable.”
Before anyone complains that students should focus on traditional academics, a director reminds us that dogs will make a difference there too.
“The biggest benefit of having Shadow at Moorefield Elementary School is the effect on students’ socio-emotional development,” said Wade Armentrout, Principal of Moorefield Elementary School. “Our students and staff have already bonded with Shadow. Interacting with Shadow will improve students’ reading skills, boost memory and problem-solving abilities, and even improve motor skills.
Friends With Paws is working to identify schools where a therapy dog is most needed right now. Those working to expand the reach of the program are to be commended. And if these animals do indeed turn out to be students’ best friends, education officials might want to consider whether ALL schools in Mountain State could use a helping paw.