The therapy dog brings comfort to high school students in West Palm Beach
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – As students and school staff across the nation try to deal with the tragedy in Texas, a Palm Beach County public school already has extra support on campus.
There are more than 2,300 students at Forest Hill Community High School in West Palm Beach, but there is one that brings smiles, happiness and comfort wherever it goes.
Her name is Mrs. Ellie Mae, a certified therapy dog.
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“I usually hear it on the radio. Heidi, bring Ms. Ellie Mae over here. Bring Ms. Ellie Mae over there,” said school treasurer Heidi Watkoski, the owner of the precious pet. “Between the staff and the students, she helped both of them.”
While Watkoski is Ellie Mae’s legal owner, the therapy dog really belongs to the whole school.
“I came in one day and there was a dog here. And I was like, why is there a dog here?” said student Gabby Killingsworth.
Killingsworth is one of Mrs. Ellie Mae’s biggest fans.
“The warmth from her body makes me relax a little and makes me think, oh, I’ll be fine. It’s going to be okay,” Killingsworth said.
It’s a connection that she knew Principal Esther Rivera was needed after a year of COVID-19, a high rate of absences and emotional struggles.
“I came to [Heidi] and he said, would you be interested in making him a guide dog and coming to work with you every day to assist our students? ”Rivera said.
And Mrs. Ellie Mae is making a difference.
“Our fights, our quarrels have dropped dramatically,” Rivera said. “We don’t really have any disciplinary issues here. Plus, students needing help have increased.”
“Ellie Mae, she saw me cry and all she did was take a toy and brought it to me and jumped on me saying, you know what? I’m here for you to change your world and make you forget what’s going on. at home, ”said student Jasmine Robinson.
Those moments can change the course of a day, a week, even a school year.
“I have paralyzing anxiety when I tremble a lot in class or right now,” said student Annie Akther. “So Ellie Mae helps me a lot. And I’d like to go to her just to find some comfort and some peace.”
And as we face another tragedy on a school campus in our country, Ellie Mae’s four legs can help more than she can imagine.
“These factors like a shooting, different things happening in society, affect student absences,” Rivera said. “So having Ellie Mae on campus, that emotional support dog, really provides students with the outlet to come to school and feel safe.”
“You feel like you can’t really care about those things because your entire focus is on her right now,” Akther said.
So, on tough days, these students don’t underestimate the power of a good belly massage.
“She’s my best friend,” said student Ashley Bissoon.
As part of a recent mental health event at Forest Hill Community High School, students were able to sign up to spend time with Ellie Mae as part of their program.
Watkoski also took Ellie Mae to visit students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland – site of a deadly mass shooting in 2018 – and will be part of a therapy dog group at the Broward County Courthouse when the trial begins. of conviction for Nicola Cruz.