Coronavirus Coverage from KARK

Emotional support dog Zoey helps Hot Springs students cope with school during pandemic


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — With a year and a half of school closures, social distancing and virtual learning more students are dealing with anxiety and mental health issues because of the pandemic. As more districts are working to add social and emotional support on campus, one Hot Springs school added a forever friend to the halls.

Every morning four legs and a wagging tail are waiting to greet students at Park Magnet School, an IB World School, before the first bell rings

“I like seeing her every day,” First Grader Layla West said.

“It brings joy to me,” Fifth Grader Parker Davis said.

Zoey is the newest member of the team. Her job is to wander the halls and put a smile on students’ face after a long couple of years.

“We have a lot more anxiety in our kids than we did a couple years ago. They are anxious and they’re nervous and they’ve dealt with a lot,” Principal Sarah Oatsvall said.

Oatsvall adopted Zoey through the Paws in Prison program. She is trained to help students with everything from anxiety to depression.

“She has a very distinct job for a couple of our kindergarten kids. We meet them at the car and that really gives them something to think about rather than having to leave mom or leave dad. They get out of the car, be with Zoey, help walk her in,” Oatsvall said.

From offering a little extra love to showing off some pretty cool tricks, it’s giving these students something to look forward to each day

“Having a dog at school is just a little bit of extra happiness,” Oatsvall said.

Teachers also use Zoey as a reward. If students behave well or get good grades they can go to the office and read to her.

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