WJON article about Pawsitivity’s impact with therapy dogs

Pawsitivity-certified trainer Jen Andrist and her “New You” public school program that Pawsitivity supports was featured in a great article!

Jen Andrist and the New You program

Therapy Dogs Helping To Build Mental Health At Paynesville High School

Paul Habstritt, February 20, 2024

PAYNESVILLE, MN (WJON News) -- A Paynesville, MN teacher's use of therapy dogs to teach students has turned into a unique benefit for the entire school. Physical Education and Health Instructor Jen Andrist started her "New You" course in 2019 as a mental health awareness class to help students learn about themselves.

After the class was established she started using her therapy dog as a way to teach students that just as dogs have different personalities, so do people. What started with one therapy dog has turned into a rotation of four that not only are used in the class but are in her classroom all day long so students, teachers, and staff can come visit when they need a break or are having a bad day to help relieve stress.

Therapy dog at school

Andrist says being able to visit the therapy dogs has turned into a highlight of the day for both students and staff alike:

"The Dean of Students, daily, will stop in. He's says that this a rejuvenating highlight of the day, he'll get down on his knees and the therapy dog comes and he gives them a belly rub. The therapy dog will search out that time and wait for that person's voice to come, and just meets them at the door."

Students with therapy dog

Andrist says the therapy dogs have helped build a community at the school:

"You can build a community, where staff and students are always welcome. Whether it’s on their lunch break, or when they are just having a bad day and they maybe don't have the right words to express it or explain it, the therapy dog is always there happily to greet them."

High School Principal David Oehrlein says the whole "New You" experience has been great for both students and the school:

"The classes that Jen teaches with the New You program does a terrific job of creating a kind of calming atmosphere and a place where kids can feel safe. I think incorporating the therapy dogs has really paid a big part in that."

Principal Oehrlein says it is a benefit for everyone at the school to be able to take a break and visit the dogs:

"It's a good way for them to take a break from what's going on at school and sit in a positive environment with the therapy dogs."

Therapy dogs at Paynesville school

Jen Andrist

Andrist says she enjoys working with children and loves animals so being able to combine the two is amazing. She continued by saying she made her classroom non-traditional in order to help build a relaxed learning environment conducive to the sensitive topics the "New You" class has to cover.

All four of Andrist's dogs are certified therapy dogs and Andrist is certified to train dogs to be therapy animals as well. Andrist also received a grant from Pawsitivity to help keep the "New You" program going.

Therapy dog at work