Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is set to release a yearbook one year from when seventeen students and staff were murdered on Valentine's Day 2018. And while the end of a school year can be rough for students under normal circumstances, it will be particularly hard for those who survived and have had to endure a series of traumatising false fire alarms, the first anniversary of the massacre, and more.
Since February, 14 therapy dogs have been at the school to help students cope. Whether it's by attending class, giving students hugs in the hallway, or providing a non-judgemental ear. And now, their efforts are being acknowledged in the yearbook, directly after the last page of underclassman yearbook photos.
The yearbook staff, including adviser Sarah Lerner and editor-in-chief Caitlynn Tibbetts, decided to include the dogs because they believe that it perfectly captures the difficulty of making a yearbook after such a terrible event. The decision fits the theme of it "It All Depends," which aims to highlight how the school has been healing and growing.
"It's a balancing act," Tibbetts, a 17-year-old junior, told BuzzFeed News. "After the shooting we wanted that yearbook to be perfect and had to cover as much as possible. This year, we wanted to give proper representation of our school and who we are now without giving so much focus to what happened to us in the past. The therapy dogs are the one thing from last year that is permanent and positive."
"There's nothing a dog can't fix," Lerner, an English and journalism teacher and the yearbook adviser, told Buzzfeed. "I'll be teaching and in comes a dog and these big 18-year-old adults all the sudden become mushy 5-year-old kids and it's been such a comfort for us."
And considering how much the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School seem to appreciate the dogs, the decision seems more than fitting. The dogs joined students at prom and even took part in picture day.
Students and staff working on the yearbook shared images and videos of the dogs having their pictures taken back in October.
"It was such a mood lifter," Tibbetts said. "Including them was a really good representation of our school and what we have gone through. Seeing them is something we look forward to every day. These dogs are going to be there until the last of us are gone."
"We are a school where news trucks are always posted outside and there is so much to deal with and show. We want to keep the conversation going in a non-triggering way," Tibbetts continued, "and it's a hard thing to do to not make it sad and depressing, but still honor who we lost and what happened to us."
"It's hard to be here some days because of the trauma and reliving and revisiting things," Lerner said. "I couldn't be prouder of my students and the yearbook they put together. Honestly, it's my favorite. We have a different perspective on things now, and it's not just a yearbook — it's a record of history."