Lonedell R-XIV middle school students are growing accustomed to Bear, a schnoodle, as part of a newly implemented therapy dog program.
Middle school math teacher Danielle Brissette said she is already seeing improvements in her students.
The school board approved the dog therapy program at its October meeting where they met Bear, a hypoallergenic schnoodle, owned by Brissette.
The purpose of Bear is to provide a calming influence in the classroom, to provide stress release to students and staff, and to aid in the social and emotional development of students.
Currently, the program is only for middle school students, due to Brissette being the only certified handler. If another staff member would want to take Bear around, they would have to be certified as well.
Bear is a certified therapy dog and has gone through a six-month training program with a professional dog trainer, and has a K-9 Good Citizen Certification and Alliance of Therapy Dogs Certification.
Students in Brissette’s classes are able to sit with Bear after their work is finished or while they are working, as long as it is not a distraction.
“It seems to me, that Bear has had the greatest impact on students who struggle with social skills,” Brissette said. “I have a few students that normally struggle to get along with others, but they will sit with a group of students by Bear and interact appropriately with peers and participate in conversations.”
Students have told her that Bear lowers their anxiety, which makes it easier to concentrate, and gives them a reason to look forward to class. Bear makes them happy, and helps then when students get upset, she added.
In addition to helping students with emotional needs, Bear has helped a student get to class on time and improve in mathematics, Brissette said.
“I have another student that struggles with getting to class on time,” she said. “On the days that Bear is here, she will normally be the first one to class.
“She knows she is only allowed to give Bear a treat if she is on time. This same student started passing math after Bear started coming to school. It gave her the motivation she needed.”
Middle school students get to see Bear twice a week on Mondays and Fridays. Brissett said she might bring the dog in on Wednesdays in the future.
“The kids seem to really look forward to the days that Bear is here,” she said. “Sometimes, he lays under my desk. If the students don’t see him, they will start looking under my desk for him.
“I make bandanas for him to wear to school,” she added. “A lot of the kids like to see which bandana he is wearing that day.”
School counselor Beverly Taylor will start working toward being a certified handler, according to Brissette, which will allow her to bring Bear around to more children.
Principal Wayne Dierker said a note home is sent first to parents. He added that he has seen progress with having Bear around students.
“Math is a tough class for many students and so with Bear being in there, it has helped with some of the anxiety,” he said. “It just adds a little layer of comfort.”
Dierker said he’s excited for Taylor complete her training and how that will affect the future of the program.
“I’m a big believer in moving slow rather than fast to make sure we do things right,” he said, adding that Bear has become a part of the school.