Menlo Park City School District (MPCSD) has been working on incorporating therapy dogs into their schools. For the past few years, Hillview Middle School, a school in the district, has had the school therapy dog, Eclair, as part of a pilot program. Chris Arrington, Hillview’s Wellness Coordinator said, “the family Eclair belongs to approached Superintendent Eric Burmeister with the idea in 2019.” Eclair was originally a service dog, but Arrington said “the organization she came from said her training would also be helpful in schools.” She has also been working via Pet Partners to become a registered therapy team with her handler. Although Eclair has been at the school since 2019, due to COVID and distance learning, she has only been fully at school for the last year. Her family brings her every morning and picks her up after school. She is available every day of the school week.
Eclair has been in Jacqueline Schlegel’s classroom for the duration of the pilot program. Schlegel, a Humanities teacher at Hillview, said “Eclair is also out during brunch and helps run a lunchtime club and that Hillview counselors are also working on incorporating her into the counselors’ office.”
In the last year, Hillview students have said they like Eclair’s presence. have already felt a notable impact. Sixth grader Ella Smith said,”Eclair is really fun to play with and has made school more fun.” Many students share similar sentiments, with seventh grader Hank Cherry adding that “Eclair was particularly helpful when students were taking their SRIs,” a lexile reading assessment. Schlegel added, “with Eclair in the classroom, students are more excited to come to class and have a sense of calmness at school.”
With a successful pilot program, Schlegel adds that it will now become “a much larger program.” Arrington said “Hillview representatives approached the foundation with the request to have facility dogs at every one of [MPCSD’s] school sites.” These dogs are being provided by 4 Pawz Strong, a nonprofit organization that has already helped many school districts obtain Social Emotional Learning dogs. Five puppies will be trained and then come to the MPCSD school district next year. Arrington said “they will hopefully be at Menlo Park in February 2023,” and will be working in the schools by March 2023. The five puppies coming next year are:
M – Millie
P – Patches
C – Cali
S – Sunny
D – Duke
The new puppies can be in multiple classrooms, as they are trained to have many handlers; compared to Eclair, they’ll provide service to more of the school, and will also be roaming campuses at lunch and brunch.
Emotional Service dogs have shown to reduce anxiety and relieve stress. They are extremely helpful, no matter what age the students are. Arrington mentioned “there are districts that have therapy dogs in all of their schools, even high schools.” He specifically mentioned the Brighton School District in Capitola, California. which has 14 dogs. These dogs help on campus and go to football games, dances, and other school events. Social Emotional Learning Dogs have been known to increase confidence, promote positive relationships, reduce anxiety, and enhance motivation.
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