Winnetka, Community

Gracie the therapy dog helps New Trier students stay ‘paw’sitive

New Trier students struggling through the challenges of adolescence can now find comfort in a new friend — one with four legs and named Gracie.

Thanks to a grant awarded by the New Trier Educational Foundation, the lovable pooch will help social worker Kristine Hummel provide research-based, animal-guided therapeutic services to students.

Hummel has earned the animal and human health certificate through The University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work. Through her studies, she has learned countless ways that animals can be integrated into the therapeutic process.

Some of the ways Gracie can help students is to improve socialization and help with emotional self-regulation. Other students will gain a sense of empowerment or receive the gift of unconditional love.

Research shows even something as simple as petting an animal can release feel-good hormones and decrease the release of hormones induced by stress. 

Hummel’s excitement over the chance to bring a therapy animal to campus was further enhanced when she learned she was awarded a grant through the NTEF.

“I love what I do and I feel so humbled to now have Gracie on board, ready to make a positive impact on the student body,” Hummel said. “I’m also so grateful to the NTEF for seeing the value in such a program and supporting this endeavor.”

The NTEF comprises students, staff, alumni and faculty and its mission is to provide private funding for exceptional educational opportunities and special projects that are not funded — or are funded only in part — by the District 203 budget.

Each year, the foundation reviews grant requests in both the spring and fall, dedicated to enhancing what is already offered through the school district. 

Examples of past grants that have been awarded include a 2016 Special Education Challenge that raised $21,545 to expand opportunity for students with disabilities. Further, New Trier business education teachers, in partnership with the foundation, brought INCubatoredu to the classroom, providing students with real-world entrepreneurship experience. 

Pon Angara, the foundation’s marketing and communication manager, explained that Hummel’s idea matched the mission of NTEF. 

“Our goal is to enhance the educational experience of our students,” Angara said. “In order for that to happen we need our students to feel safe, supported and whole so that they can learn. What better way then by adding a trained, therapeutic dog like Gracie to the campus, who can provide the emotional support students need to flourish.” 

Those interested in learning more about Gracie can watch her introduction video. To make an appointment with Hummel and Gracie, email 

Alexa Burnell

Alexa Burnell is a Wilmette resident who has been covering the North Shore for the past seven years, previously for The Wilmette Beacon and its sister newspapers.

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