Therapy Animals Bring Comfort to Grieving Columbia High Students

by The Village Green
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On March 29, the students of Columbia High School suffered the loss of one of their own. In the aftermath of the tragic loss, school district staff worked to mobilize the South Orange Maplewood School District’s Crisis Intervention Team and provide counseling resources to students.

On Monday, April 4, crisis intervention took the form of therapy animals, providing a moment of warmth and comfort during a dark and turbulent time for students.

“We are so happy that Creature Comfort Pet Therapy could meet with our students this week,” CHS Principal Frank Sanchez told Village Green.

“I know our students would love to have a permanent CHS service animal, as some schools do. As we investigate that possibility, we will surely continue to invite this great organization back to CHS. In fact, we plan to have their volunteers return in early May during AP exams as well.”

Sanchez thanked SOMSD Counseling Director of Guidance Falynn Balassone “who organized this visit and who is in charge of the social and emotional learning initiatives here at Columbia High School.”

The pets clearly had an impact with students gravitating to the animals on the lawn in front of the school and sharing many photos of the furry creatures with friends and family.

Happy, a three-month old therapy dog, visited CHS on Monday, April 4.

From Superintendent of School Dr. Ronald Taylor:

Dear South Orange & Maplewood School District Community:

It is with deep regret that we inform you about a recent loss to our school community. On Tuesday, March 29, we received confirmation of the death of a Columbia High School (CHS) student. Out of respect for the family, currently, we are unable to share additional details of the student’s death. However, we understand that this loss is sure to raise many emotions, concerns, and questions not only for our students, but also for members of our staff and parent community.

The South Orange & Maplewood School District and CHS have a Crisis Intervention Team made up of  professionals trained to help with the needs of students, parents, and school personnel at difficult times such as this. The crisis team at CHS has been mobilized to respond to this tragic event.  Throughout the remainder of this week and the coming weeks, there will be counselors available for any student who may need or want help or any type of assistance surrounding this loss.

As this tragedy will affect all of us in different ways, we have included some information below that may be useful to you in helping your child at home as well as resources to help the community in general.  We are saddened by the loss to our school community and will make every effort to help you and your child as you need. We encourage you, as parents, to also feel free to use our resources.

Student/Parent Resources:

  1. SOMSD Mental Health Resources:
  2. Talking to children about death: an age-by-age guide:
  3. Helping Children Cope With Grief:
  4. Grief Support & Resources:

We ask that everyone respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time and keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

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