Liberty Local Schools utilizing school social worker, counselors and therapy dog to support students through pandemic


Everyone’s life has been disrupted one way or another by the pandemic.  A lot of people, including kids are feeling more anxious these days. In recognizing the mental and emotional impacts of the pandemic, Liberty Local Schools has bolstered its support for students and families by utilizing its school counselors, partnering with Cadence Care Network and the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board to bring a social worker into the schools, and utilizing its therapy dog, Pawss.

Liberty is committed to utilizing multiple resources to support the social and emotional needs of students and adults to address the challenges that this year has laid before us. Partnering with Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board has enabled Liberty to add an additional layer of support by enlisting the services of Cadence Care Network.  Additionally, enlisting support from a four-legged friend, 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,” said Interim Superintendent Dr. Andy Tommelleo, Ed.D.

While Pawss has been a school staple for nearly four years, her owner, who is also 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” said PK-6 school counselor Kristie Sallee.

As expected, Sallee says the needs of students are greater this year.  Anxieties are higher among students, as well as their parents.  In the younger grades, she said some students have expressed feeling isolated and sad about being unable to interact with their friends.  

“When students express these emotions to us, we immediately work on things to help them overcome those feelings.  For example, if a student is sad they are unable to see their friends, we may arrange a virtual meeting so that they can talk and interact with each other.  We really try to provide as many experiences as we can to make our kids feel comfortable,” said Sallee.

At the high school, some students have expressed feeling withdrawn and sad about missing out on important high school experiences.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.  We are fortunate this year to be collaborating with multiple organizations and agencies including Cadence Care Network, Red Zone, YUMADOP, and Compass Family & Community Solutions to provide counseling and prevention services to our students and families.  Our new school social worker, Kristen Coonce, has been a valuable addition to our district as she will be providing additional mental & social emotional counseling services, resources, and support to our students, families, and staff.”  

“Behavioral health education and support are vital in our schools. Students are faced with many issues that impact their learning, including issues at home, in the community and in their schools. In my role here at Liberty, it’s my goal to build resiliency and improve social and emotional health among students,” said school social worker Kristen Coonce 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 Kristen is in the district from three to five.   

“As COVID-19 continues to provide challenges to our day to day functioning, we believe it is critical to increase intervention and support for both adults and students. Utilizing grant funding will help meet those challenges,” said Tommelleo.


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