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Social worker, therapy dog help Liberty students

LIBERTY — Recognizing the mental and emotional impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Liberty Local School District has bolstered its support for students and families.

Using its school counselors and partnering with Cadence Care Network and the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board, the district brought a social worker into the schools and is using its therapy dog, Pawss.

“Pawss has provided a sense of normalcy from Day One and that has added a unique source of comfort that only a therapy pet can provide,” interim Liberty Superintendent Andy Tommelleo said.

While Pawss has been a school staple for nearly four years, her owner, Kristie Sallee, who also is the district’s PK-6 school counselor, knew she would play an even bigger role this year.

“I am so glad we are able to have Pawss here in the midst of the pandemic. I think it would have been devastating to our kids if she wasn’t here. She provides so much comfort, reassurance and joy to our kids, and they certainly can use more of that this year,” Sallee said.

At the high school, some students have expressed feeling withdrawn and sad about missing out on important high school experiences.

“Our primary goal is to consistently maintain contact with our students and families who are struggling during this difficult time. Additionally, making appropriate referrals for services to ensure that the needs of our students and families are met,” Tommelleo said.

The school district is collaborating with organizations and agencies including Cadence Care Network, Red Zone, YUMADOP, and Compass Family & Community Solutions.

“Our new school social worker, Kristen Coonce, has been a valuable addition to our district as she will be providing additional mental and social emotional counseling services, resources and support to our students, families, and staff,” Tommelleo said.

“In my role here at Liberty, it’s my goal to build resiliency and improve social and emotional health among students,” said Coonce, who is with Cadence Care Network

Liberty Local Schools recently applied for a grant to expand its partnership with Cadence Care Network. Pending approval of the grant, Liberty Local Schools will be able to increase the number of days Coonce is in the district from 3 to 5 p.m.

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