The anticipation and excitement of the December holiday season, coupled with the crush of end-of-term exams, are enough to send most high schoolers into serious stress mode. But students at South Cobb High got a bit of a break a few weeks ago when two therapy dogs came to their rescue, offering furry hugs and happy Golden Retriever smiles.
Using therapy animals to lower stress levels isn’t a new approach, but it’s a novel one for a high school to take. The idea to introduce the dogs came from Dedra Roman, the youth services librarian at the South Cobb Regional library, where the dogs participate in a program that invites youngsters to read aloud to them.
“I asked the owner if she’d extend the service to the high school because the students were having test anxiety,” said Roman. “I knew they’d enjoy some time with the dogs. They could read to them or just get some love from the gentle giants.”
The guest appearance of four-footed Hobby and Colber was hit, drawing about 500 of the school’s 2,200 students into the media center for a welcomed respite.
“The dogs did tricks, took commands and played ball,” said South Cobb’s Media Specialist Jennifer Bone. “But other kids just sat and watched or petted and hugged them. We had a special ed group come through, and the dogs were very sweet with them.”
The well-timed therapy dog visit was just one of several projects that has grown from the special partnership between the school and the nearby county library. Roman has been developing a variety of ways to reach out to the teens to increase their reading and writing skills.
“I have a passion for working with teens, and right now, the library has a teen collection [of books], but there’s no dedicated teen space,” said Roman. “Reaching out to them lets them know we’re the library they can come to.”
Two years ago, Roman approached the high school about establishing a monthly book club. On the second Thursday of the month, she meets during the lunch break with students for a lively discussion of three to four books. About 10 teens show up regularly, and occasionally the group has swelled to almost 20.
“I always select more than one book, and though I read them all, they get to choose one,” she said. “That way, I’m always hitting someone’s favorite genre. I want to be sure I find something that works for everyone. They usually end up reading more than one anyway. And sometimes more than book talk happens, but that’s how I found out about how stressed they were during finals.”
Roman also launched a magazine, Eagle Anthologies, to showcase student writing and art work.
“We published our first issue last March, and we had 46 submissions,” she said. “We’re now working on our second issue, and I expect to have even more entries for short stories, poetry and art. I know students are doing a lot of writing in their language arts courses that will be coming my way. But I try to keep it to about 30 pages so we can afford to print multiple copies.”
Having a close working relationship with the county library system has been a win-win for both groups, said Bone.
“Ms. Roman is so dynamic, and it was great that she reached out to us. She does all the work for the book club, choosing the titles and bringing us copies so we have them here. We’ve also partnered with her to do some community service projects. And she was the one who thought having the dogs here would be great. We realize we’re fortunate to have such a unique partnership.”
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