Fairview El­e­men­tary goes to the dogs

Ca­nine com­pan­ions calm and mo­ti­vate stu­dents in need

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - By Jenny Thompson

Dozens of sci­en­tific re­ports point to the abil­ity of dogs to help those strug­gling with de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety.

Teach­ers and stu­dents at Fairview El­e­men­tary School are us­ing two com­pan­ion an­i­mals — Sugar and Bear — to en­cour­age shy read­ers to read aloud, to fos­ter so­cial skills within autis­tic stu­dents, to mo­ti­vate chil­dren to ex­er­cise and pro­vide in­cen­tives for good be­hav­ior.

Nina Henderson, pre-K co­or­di­na­tor at Fairview El­e­men­tary, has res­cued an­i­mals from shel­ters for eight years bring­ing them out to her farm in Rut­ledge. At times Henderson has housed as many as 15 dogs on her prop­erty.

Cer­tain dogs dis­played such friendly, re­laxed qual­i­ties it caused Henderson to look into ther­apy dog train­ing and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

“It’s one of the things I’ve been very in­ter­ested in this past year by do­ing re­search and talk­ing about it with oth­ers,” Henderson said.

When a lov­ing, quiet yel­low Labrador re­triever came into her life, Henderson de­cided to have her as­sessed for work as a ther­apy dog.

“It’s one of the things I’ve been very in­ter­ested in this past year by do­ing re­search and talk- ing about it with oth­ers,” Henderson said.

Be­cause Sugar passed her as­sess­ment, Com­pan­ion An­i­mal Res­cue Inc. and the Morgan County Hu­man So­ci­ety spon­sored her adop­tion and some of her med­i­cal bills.

Fairview Prin­ci­pal Holly Dubois agreed to have Sugar come to the school and work with spe­cial needs stu­dents and as a read­ing coach. Dubois liked the idea so much she de­cided to bring her 3- to 4-year-old black Labrador re­triever, Bear, to school as well.

“Any­body can ask for ac­cess to Bear or Sugar,” Dubois said. “It’s like check­ing out a li­brary book.”

On a typ­i­cal day at work, Sugar and Bear will sit in spe­cial needs class­rooms with autis­tic chil­dren to sup­port en­gage­ment in lan­guage — a ma­jor goal of teach­ers of autis­tic stu­dents.

“They will talk to a dog be­fore they will talk to a hu­man,” Dubois said.

Not only will autis­tic stu­dents vo­cal­ize thoughts or feel­ings around four-legged friends they also ex­er­cise by tak­ing them for walks around the school.

Reg­u­lar ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents also ben­e­fit from the car­dio­vas­cu­lar work­outs pro­vided by toss­ing fly­ing discs and balls to the retriev­ers — fa­mous for chas­ing any­thing that moves.

Chil­dren with anger is­sues calm down af­ter Dubois re­quests they take Sugar or Bear on a walk.

“The sec­ond ben­e­fit is they are show­ing care and com­pas­sion to­ward an an­i­mal,” Dubois said, “and we’re hop­ing they will even­tu­ally be able to show care and com­pas­sion to­ward hu­mans.”

Chil­dren also feel more con­fi­dent around the dogs.

“Even though they’re not their pet, it gives them a sense of own­er­ship and pride,” Dubois said.

Stu­dents ap­pre­hen­sive about read­ing aloud are also more con­fi­dent with the dogs.

“They’re not go­ing to laugh or say you messed up a word,” Dubois said. “That’s such a con­fi­dence builder. Or, if a stu­dent doesn’t like to read pe­riod, they will if they can just sit by that dog.”

Stu­dents at Fairview who may not have fam­ily pets are learn­ing not to fear dogs, but that they should be ap­proached in a cer­tain way, never ap­proached if they are un­known to the child and own­ers must al­ways be asked be­fore their an­i­mal is pet­ted.

“There are just ton of fringe ben­e­fits,” Dubois said.

Henderson said when stu­dents feel Sugar and Bear’s well­groomed coat or see them obey a com­mand, they may go home and brush their dog’s coat out or try to teach him or her to sit.

“A great part of be­ing in res­cue is you get that trickle down ef­fect,” Henderson said.

Henderson ex­plained how she would like “dog time” to be­come a re­ward for pass­ing a cer­tain num­ber of Ac­cel­er­ated Reader tests.

Both Dubois and Henderson ad­mit they haven’t rein­vented the wheel with the idea of ther­apy dogs in schools, but rather copied what other schools around the coun­try were do­ing.

How­ever, they said the new ad­di­tions to Fairview have cer­tainly pos­i­tively af­fected stu­dents and pro­vided in­cen­tive for young minds to come to school ready to fol­low di­rec­tions, be­have well and learn.

Jenny Thompson/The Cov­ing­ton News

Class­room helper: Tyr­isha Reid, left, Lucy McDon­ald and Lexi Hairston pet Fairview El­e­men­tary ther­apy dog Sugar dur­ing cal­en­dar time in Kim­ber­ley Mal­colm’s class on Nov. 13.

Jenny Thompson/The Cov­ing­ton News

Go­ing for a walk: Lucy McDon­ald, left, and para­pro­fes­sional Tracy Stowe walk ther­apy dog Bear in the park­ing lot of Fairview El­e­men­tary School on Nov. 13.

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