Why did Wyandotte want Cash to be part of our staff? All over the United States schools, including Wyandotte Elementary, have seen an increase in students grappling with anxiety and working to overcome a variety of trauma. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 1 in 5 American children ages 3 through 17 have a diagnosable mental, emotional or behavioral disorder in a given year. (Snow & McFadden, 2017) So back to the question, “Why are schools going to the dogs?” An article in a recent newsletter from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) addresses the answer to this. The article states:
“Having canines in schools is a mood changer. Therapy dogs are helping schools with everything from trauma to reading interventions. Petting a dog for even a few minutes can positively affect our brain chemistry, according to research, increasing oxytocin levels and reducing the stress hormone cortisol. For kiddos who have experienced trauma, a dog can be incredibly comforting.”
I believe having daily, hands-on interaction with a facility/therapy dog will be especially beneficial for my students and staff. A facility/therapy dog will provide cognitive, physiological, and social/emotional support to everyone. He will become part of our school community.
Our goals with having Cash, our facility dog:
- he can assist the principal with students who are struggling with behavior issues. (empathy/compassion)
- he can assist the principal with students who are socially disconnected from peers or teachers. (improve self-esteem)
- he can help in the reduction of stress and anxiety among children in social settings that are stressful (reduce anxiety levels and help child(ren) to decompress after traumatic circumstance, for example fighting, peer relations, emotional outbursts, separation anxiety, sensory overload).
- he can contribute to the improvement of reading and comprehension skills of students having these difficulties (improve reading skills, increase confidence and literary interest).
- he creates a positive and safe learning environment for students, parents, and staff.
Cash, our facility dog, has had extensive training. The main goal is to provide psychological or physiological therapy to students. Our dog will have a stable temperament and a friendly, easy-going personality.
A typical working day for Cash is greeting the students each morning with an office staff member, visiting classrooms, socializing with students, obeying handler’s commands, ignoring loud noises or outbursts, giving emotional support/companionship and unconditional affection to all, and staying calm in a variety of situations and environments. Cash is part of Ms. Fitzgerald's family and goes home with her to relax in his fenced in backyard as a family pet during after school hours.
Approach-This expectation covers when the appropriate time is to come say hello to Cash and how to approach him. Students will learn how to approach Cash out at recess during the week when I am on walkabouts with him. Students will understand leaving a classroom or jumping out of a class line are not responsible times to come visit. When students approach Cash they will be taught to walk up slowly. This is especially important during recess where students run from place to place. Another part of the approach step will be for students to know Cash can only have up to 3 students with him at a time. If there are already 3 students around Cash, students will know they need to wait for someone to leave before they approach him.
Ask-This is a key safety measure for both Cash and our kiddos. Students must ask to pet Cash and the principal or handler must respond back to them before they pet him. This ensures that the handler is aware of both Cash’s behavior and the students’ actions. Part of the students’ initial training will stress that people always need to ask to pet an animal.
Pet- For this expectation, I will discuss that Cash likes to smell a closed hand first and then get scratched under the chin. We will also begin with Cash in the sit/down position before he greets the kiddos. (Research shows that this helps students learn how to ask the dog to sit and pay attention to them and he will not be surprised by having a small hand in his/her face.)
Hi or Goodbye- When students are with Cash and I want the line to get moving or lessen the disruption, I will also encourage students to just say hi or goodbye. Since only 3 are allowed with our dog at a time, I need to set an expectation that saying hi or goodbye is a quick way to talk to Cash. This also allows others present to have a turn.
We can't wait for you to meet Cash and become part of the Cash Crew!