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First Lady Justice tells state BOE her Communities in Schools initiative is helping graduation rates

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — First Lady Cathy Justice says more students in West Virginia are staying in school, in part, because of her Communities in Schools (CIS) initiative.

Justice told members of the state Board of Education Wednesday that 38 counties are participating in the program. She said 91,000 students in 208 school have been impacted.

CIS aims to forge community partnerships and bring resources into schools to help remove barriers to student learning with a goal of keeping all students in school and ultimately graduating.

“We have children staying in school, graduating or getting their GEDs it’s like 99 percent right now. It’s such a wonderful thing that attendance is thriving,” Justice said.

The First Lady started the program in 2018 because she said she wanted to see students achieve their potential.

“There’s so many children in West Virginia as you all know that don’t have self-esteem. They just think that they can’t do anything, they’ve been told they can’t do anything, so I’m the cheerleader for them. I tell them they can do anything that they want to. We’re there to help them,” she said.

Therapy dogs are placed in schools as part of the CIS initiative. The dogs are meant to interact with students who have been affected by poverty, substance abuse, or other at-risk situations.

The First Lady said the dogs serve as a healthy and friendly outlet for these students to address trauma and other social-emotional issues.

“We usually get the dogs about a year old and they’re very trained and sensitive to all the children’s needs,” she said. “A little girl was having a bad day and she was not very happy. This dog went over to this little girl and stood by her. They just have this sense that they’re just there for them.”

The program is called Friends With Paws.

The first three schools receiving therapy dogs in 2023 include Hinton Area Elementary School in Summers County with a male Cream Labradoodle.

Bridgeview Elementary School in Kanawha County will receive a male Yellow Labrador.

Oakvale Elementary School in Mercer County will receive a male Apricot and White Labradoodle.

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