Mental health

Assistance dog helps students build social-emotional skills in Framingham High School

Currently there are 24 NEADS assistance dogs working in Massachusetts schools

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As students return to classrooms in Massachusetts, one Framingham school is showing success in a program that helps build academic and social-emotional skills for students.

Framingham High School offers a program called Resiliency For Life. The program helps about 60 students in ninth through 12th grade through emotional challenges to achieve academic success.



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“Emotionally we see students who go from debilitating anxiety, depression, trauma when they are freshmen and it gradually evolves to the point where when they leave Framingham High School they are ready to be independent,” said RFL Program Coordinator Mark Goldschmidt.

The RFL program includes a social worker, a bilingual academic monitor and an assistance dog named Nala.

“Now that I am in this program I can't skip class which is helping me drastically because I failed a lot of classes but ever since joining this program my grades have went up,” said Lucas Tonel, a sophomore at the high school who hopes to finish school and be a Division 1 football player.

Meanwhile, senior Sophia Strange who is also in the program has her goal set on graduating and already knows what she wants to do next.

"I already do my dream job and I do real estate with my dad,” Strange said. “I will be going to school hopefully for business and marketing and move on from there.”

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However, she says getting to that point wasn’t easy. Her freshman year was tough with online schooling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and her mother faced serious health problems.

“My mom was sick for three years so having a reason other than like friends which I didn’t have a lot of, having Nala here has made me come into school a lot more," Strange said. “It is just having an animal that doesn’t understand what is happening sort of understand what is happening.”

After three years in the program, about 56% of RFL students’ grades were As and Bs, according to a program report.

“To have the kids back in the building being able to figure out what they need both academically and social-emotionally and being able to provide that for them is great to have,” said Amy Gerade, principal at Framingham High School.

Nala comes from NEADS, a non-profit organization that trains service dogs to perform a variety of tasks.

Currently there are 24 NEADS assistance dogs in Massachusetts schools.

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