Cheering Ursuline Academy seniors waving signs welcomed students of the lower school back to the classroom Wednesday, along with a new furry friend.
Winnie, who’s celebrating her first birthday Wednesday as students return, is a poodle mix that was adopted by the academy to provide emotional support for students.
Donna Kinzel, Usuline’s chief financial officer, said that librarians will use Winnie for reading sessions.
The pupper also will be utilized by the guidance counselors and during therapeutic sessions when midterms and finals are taking place.
“For kids, especially the younger ones, who are scared to go back to school, I’m thinking that Winnie will definitely help them feel calm and comfortable,” said fifth-grader Elizabeth Coen.
Winnie has gone through extensive training to serve as a therapeutic dog, said Trisha Medeiros, president of Ursuline.
“After COVID, we wanted to have systems and structures and pets that can help with wellness and care,” Mederiros said. “You can’t help but be happy when this adorable little dog comes running up to you and you can snuggle her.”
At the front of the school Wednesday morning, dozens of Ursuline seniors were blowing party horns, waving signs and cheering as drivers dropping off children honked horns in response.
“This really just adds to our energy and is a good way to kick off the first day,” said Ann Philips, Ursuline’s middle school principal. “I think if someone has some jitters, when they see all our seniors cheering for them, they’ll be excited.”
She said the welcome team reinforces community and connections shared among the Ursuline family.
“This is like the energy that we have within our walls every day,” she said. “The older students are always great mentors and role models for our younger students.”
Chayce Patton, a fifth-grader at Ursuline, said she loved being greeted by her Ursuline sisters.
“It makes me feel very energetic and it makes me feel like I want to learn and I want to come back to school the next day,” she said. “It makes me feel really encouraged that I’ve made it to another year.”
Winnie isn’t the first pet she has seen at school.
Her fourth-grade teacher had a class fish, but she “brought it home for the summer and it hasn’t been back since.”
Chayce said she’s excited to pet Winnie every morning and play with the dog whenever she needs a pick-me-up.
Both Chayce and Elizabeth said their goals for this school year are to get good grades and have fun with their classmates and teachers.
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“This is one of my favorite days of the year,” Medeiros said. “It helps set the tone for the entire year.”
She noted that this is the first school start since 2019 in which the staff and students can feel normal again, without the burden of COVID-19 restrictions.
“I think that’s what makes today extra special,” she said. “There’s that spirit and lift of hope and energy. The students have experienced such loss these past couple years and that’s what makes today even more special.”
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
Jarek can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at (215) 450-9982. Follow him on Twitter @jarekrutz
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