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Farragut High School changes student culture with new class, HABIT dog

Since losing six students in 4 years to suicide, Farragut High School is making changes to redefine its culture and help students.

FARRAGUT, Tenn. — Unfortunately, Farragut High School students are too familiar with loss. Six of their peers have died by suicide in the last 4 years.

Principal Dr. John Bartlett is making an effort to redefine the culture at the school.

Until recently, some teens felt they couldn't talk about the loss.

"Used to be it felt like something that was swept under the rug.  We would mention it and just try not to mention it anymore," senior Will Stevens said. "When it’s actually being brought up in conversation it keeps it a lot more aware and people are noticing the signs of danger."

FOR MORE: The Reality of Suicide

In January, every student began taking a new class designed to address these issues and empower students to help themselves and each other.

One lesson included standing up and chatting with different students in the class in an ice breaker with the goal being to speak with people they didn't know.

"That’s what we’re building here, your community," Bartlett told the class. "So, I want you to put your phones down and connect on a personal level, not on an electronic level."

All semester, they’ll continue to work on building relationships, resiliency and emotional and social skills.

RELATED: Farragut High School introduces changes to save young lives

Not only is Dr. Bartlett working to empower students, but he’s also giving them opportunities to de-stress from ping pong tables to "Music Fridays" in the lunchroom to visits from a special four-legged friend named Buck.

The 7-year-old Weimaraner may be a dock diving dog who enjoys tennis balls and long walks, but when he's at Farragut High, he's on a mission.

Buck is a HABIT ambassador. Every Friday he and his owner, Trent Steele, spend several hours interacting with teens in the school library.

"They want to come and pet a dog, and it just changes their whole day," Steele said. "There’s a kid we met that said, 'I may fail my test right now, but you just brightened my day.'  And so, unfortunately, he probably needed to study a little more, but [Buck] brightened his day so it was pretty cool."

Credit: Elizabeth Sims
Buck the HABIT dog visits Farragut High School.

The students are grateful for the weekly visits.

"Friday is normally test day so it’s like Friday is test day, but I also get to see Buck in the library," senior Gracie Kidd said.

RELATED: Sleep deprivation can put your teen's life at risk. Here's how you can help them

Karen Armsey with HABIT said animals provide many health benefits- lower stress hormones, lower blood pressure and even increase learning.

"The kids that are stressed start to feel better. Those that are having tests- they remember what’s going on a little better, kids that are having a hard time have a moment to take a breath and interact with a great dog who doesn’t care whether they are wearing the right clothes or know the right things. He just cares that they’re there for him, and he makes them happy," Armsey said.

Bartlett said Buck is an important part of meeting the needs of the students. 

"They love Buck. He’s a fantastic animal. He’s a fantastic relationship builder in our building. It’s really cool," Bartlett said.

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