A year in, Franklin schools says therapy dogs are a huge success

Second graders are working on a math game together, but one of them is having trouble with a problem.

A white Labradoodle senses their struggle and encourages them.

The girl pats the Labradoodle Hiro before going back to work.

Scenes like this happen every day at Northwood Elementary School and Webb Elementary, where Millie, a brown Labradoodle, the other therapy dog ​​at Franklin Community Schools, is stationed.

Hiro and Millie have been hard at work in schools since the school year started last August. They finished their education in March 2020 but had no chance to interact with the students until the students returned to the classrooms for the fall semester. The dogs are only part of the school district’s growing focus on mental health. Hiro, Millie, and five human staff, including Kim Spurling, the district’s mental health director, were added to help bring more mental health services to the district with funds from a 2019 referendum.

The therapy dogs add another layer to social emotional learning that is more important than ever in preparing students for life, Spurling said.

“Schools used to be a place where we could only focus on academics,” she says.

“But we have become more aware that in order to take care of the whole child, we need to bring this emotional support and bring it to our academics in order for the students to really thrive.”

The dogs have shown such an impact that Franklin schools are planning to buy three more with $ 93,000 in federal funding from the second CARES bill. The amount is paid for the dogs, the training and one year for food and material for everyone.

They model good behavior for students and comfort those who have a hard time in class, on the bus, or at home. This effect is demonstrated by the myriad of anecdotes, letters that students send to the dogs, and data on student interactions.

Even students who used to be afraid of dogs now love Hiro, ask about him and visit him, said Andrea Korreck, Northwood director and Hiro supervisor.

“Its impact is really beyond data. I don’t know the word – magical or surreal. He gets into a situation and immediately calms down. We joke that we’re now chopped liver. When I have Hiro, it doesn’t say ‘Hey Mrs. Korreck’ but ‘Hey Hiro’, ”she said.

Franklin Therapy Dogs begin each day by greeting students as they get off the bus. They spend time in different classrooms where several teachers and counselors are trained in how to use them.

Hiro spends a lot of time with special school children, kindergarten children learning to read, students who have a hard time, and helps out with behavioral problems when needed.

For Brianna Heminger’s special educators, Hiro offers support in difficult life situations or with school work.

In Heminger’s math intervention group, Hiro gives a nudge when students stray from a task or feel fear because they can’t solve a problem, she said.

“On the days when I didn’t have him here, I cried a lot more,” said Heminger. “You know that here I expect to do my best and stay positive. The positivity is hard to hold, but getting him here helps. And they know that when they’re done, they’ll have a few minutes to cuddle with him. “

Students love Hiro enough to tell him secrets, and they have learned from his example how to stay calm during a crisis, Heminger said.

“They think, ‘If Hiro can do this, so can I.’ It helps the children see that everyone can do great things; that we are all capable, ”said Heminger.

Hiro is also a staple for kindergarten teacher Heather Kepner, whose students read to him to familiarize themselves with reading.

“I saw an improvement in him and built trust,” said Kepner. “At this age, in kindergarten, they are often reluctant to try it – to tackle these words and say them out loud. But I see more confidence in Hiro to try words that they would not otherwise do. “

Second grader Callie Woods and kindergarten teacher Alice Hornbuckle both said Hiro made them smile even when they were struggling. It also helps them focus.

“When he comes next to us, he tells us to work hard,” said Woods.

Second grader Zane Eller is a student whose behavior has been positively influenced since Hiro’s arrival. Eller tends to get upset in class, stand up and use an outside voice, but having Hiro and a standing desk improves his behavior. Since spending time with Hiro is an incentive to good behavior, Eller tries his best to be good and deserve that time with him, he said.

Over the course of a month – from November 4 to December 9 – Hiro helped Northwood’s behavioral interventionist Elayne Spongberg respond to 30 behavior problems, according to data compiled by school staff. In 21 of these incidents, Hiro was very effective in calming and regulating behavior.

In all incidents of aggressive behavior such as fighting or throwing objects, this behavior stopped immediately when Hiro arrived, the data shows.

Hiro helped Spongberg see fewer students and students who repeatedly misbehave, she said.

“Hiro has that kind of thing. He will sit down with you and you will calm down and he will help you solve the problem, “said Spongberg. “It used to take a lot of time, but now we can see a difference in behavior within a minute.”

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