Pinecrest Elementary in Lithia is one of many schools throughout the country that received animals from the Elementary Teddy Bear Project, funded by the Kiwanis and Hillsborough County Public Schools. School Counselor Kim Terrell has already put the bears to good use to soothe upset students and help others work through problems.

Counselors at local schools have a new tool to help students thanks to Kiwanis members and Hillsborough County Public School’s (HCPS) Security and Emergency Management Office. Through the Elementary Teddy Bear Project, HCPS has purchased stuffed teddy bears for school counselors to loan or share with traumatized students throughout the school year.

“This is just one of the innovative strategies the district is using to help with students’ emotional and social learning,” said HCPS Media Outreach Representative Tanya Arja. “The hope is that the teddy bears will allow school psychologists and social workers to help children address unresolved emotional issues that hinder a child’s socialization and learning processes.”

The Kiwanis group donated $3,000 towards the purchase of more than 900 teddy bears that were distributed by School Security Officers for Hillsborough Schools countywide. Each campus received four or five bears.

“Our school security officers are delivering the teddy bears as a way to build relationships with our most vulnerable students,” said Arja. “The teddy bears will help students connect to their feelings and express themselves in constructive ways; establishing a safe and supportive learning environment for every student.”

Lithia’s Pinecrest Elementary is one of the schools benefiting from the program.

“We have so many kids who can use something to love that the bears have been an instant hit,” said Kim Terrell, Pinecrest Elementary School Counselor. “They are great for kids who are scared or frightened, especially kids coming from foster homes or dealing with divorce or other traumatic events in their life. It’s just a great way to calm them down and really help us connect with them.”

Terrell is grateful for the five bears the school received, but stated that the students would really benefit from more animals so that she could let some take them home with them.

“Although these have been great at school, if anyone has any bears sitting unused at home, we would gladly take them,” she said. “Many of our kids could really something of their own to support them forever.”

To learn more about the program, visit www.sdhc.k12.fl.us or call 272-4000. Pinecrest Elementary is located at 7950 Lithia Pinecrest Rd. and can be reached at 744-8164.