OXNARD, Calif. - When students at Channel Islands High School in Oxnard head back to school this fall, there will be a friendly new face there to greet them.
Meet Maslow, the school’s new therapy dog in training.
He’s just one piece of the effort to make kids feel comfortable and welcome as they return to the classroom.
While many students are excited to return for the new year, school officials recognize that it’s a big change after the pandemic.
That’s why the Oxnard Union High School District has installed "Wellness Centers" in each of its high schools. The idea is to give kids a place to go when they’re stressed, or just need someone to talk to. They’ll have access to mental health professionals as well as support from their peers.
"They're able to come in here whenever they need any social emotional support, whether it be just a break or they need to talk to somebody," said student wellness specialist Elizabeth Cervantes.
"We want them to feel like this is their place, whether it's just to reach recharge in between, like testing, or if it's just after a long weekend of needing just to kind of unwind," said student wellness specialist Kimberly Pilpil.
The centers offer access to everything from therapists and wellness specialists, to activities like morning meditation, aroma therapy, and mindfulness workshops. School officials hope the centers can help students better connect, as well as build their emotional intelligence.
"They feel that they know how to self be self aware, to self manage their emotions, to be able to relate to others," said Dr. Freda Rossi, director of wellness and inclusion.
"It's facilitated many discussions, many events and many opportunities for students to feel connected with the campus when they couldn't find connection in other places," said Marianne Ramos.
For students – it’s also a chance to help their peers navigate the tough halls of high school, and destigmatize discussions about mental health.
"I really want people that come into the one center to realize that they should also put their mental health first. And that could be like their foundation to succeed in future goals," said one student.
"It really gave me an insight into like how people really go through things and how different people react to different situations," another said.
And of course, there’s always Maslow.
"So the dog doesn't judge. The dog loves unconditionally and he's just a great way to help them get through that social awkwardness that may be happening because of where our society has been," said Nancy Mitchell.