Starting at a new school once the academic year has started can be daunting for any student but one new face at Rockford’s Boylan Central Catholic High School is being met with welcoming smiles from the student body.
Addie, a hound mix, started making the rounds as a service dog at the school in late November. Her owner, Mary Kate Olofson, the coordinator of Boylan’s Wellness Program (BWP), said that having a service dog at school enhances the overall program.
“My predecessor, Mary Jean Voigt, had brought her dog in to school and saw the therapeutic benefits of how a dog can help students struggling with anxiety, stress and depression A service dog’s calming presence can really impact a student’s overall well-being,” she said.
Olofson said that she spent a year looking for the right type of dog to compliment her duties as wellness coordinator.
“I knew I needed a dog with the right temperament; one who loves kids, doesn’t bark and one who would be a calm and loving resource for the students.”
The BWP exists not only to help students returning to school after a physical illness or surgery but also to function as a “safe space” where students can work through the issues of adolescence. Students participate in the program in a variety of ways including small support groups, classroom lessons and individual counseling.
By all accounts, Addie is adjusting well to life at Boylan and spends the day by Olofson’s side either in the wellness office or walking the halls greeting students. Faculty, staff and administration have also been very receptive to having Addie at school.
“They are just so excited to see Addie during the school day and pet her,” Olofson said. “I think she helps the teachers handle stress. Addie just loves going to school.”
Many of Olofson’s colleagues even volunteer to take Addie outside during the day for “restroom” breaks.
For students struggling with social or emotional issues, just being able to sit and pet Addie helps to diffuse their stress.
“I have had students come in with anxiety attacks, not being able to breathe or stop crying and they just sit with Addie for a while, pet her and before long, they are calm and have regained their composure.”
Prior to having Addie at school, Olofson spent time in training with her and also received the approval of Boylan’s administration. Having a service dog at Boylan seems to benefit both Addie and the students she serves.
“I got Addie from a foster family in Wisconsin, but she had previously lived in a high kill shelter in Alabama,” Olofson said. “It’s interesting because just as Addie heals the students she visits, the students heal her and help to compensate for her time in the shelter.”
Boylan senior Annie Flanagan is one of Addie’s biggest fans. “It’s nice to know that you can take a break from the stress of being in high school and not only talk to Ms Olofson but spend some time cuddling Addie. It’s nice to vent to someone who isn’t going to judge you or give you negative feedback,” she said.
Catherine O’Grady, also a senior, looks forward to seeing Addie around school each day.
“She’s another happy and familiar face to see at Boylan each day,” O’Grady said. “Addie is just here to love us and make the students smile. There is something very relaxing about seeing Addie and petting her that makes your problems sort of fade away.”
“Boylan is like a family as it is,” Olofson said “and having Addie here makes the school environment that much more supportive, encouraging and welcoming for our students.”
—New face at Boylan spreads happiness and comfort–