Schools get therapy dogs

By | February 4, 2019 7:57 am

Webster (WCMS)

By Rachel Auberger

Two White County schools will have new members walking around their halls this spring as the middle and high schools add therapy dogs to their staff this May.

Kurt Dronebarger, director of schools, said he came across information online such as an article published by The Conversation, in March 2018, suggesting that the use of therapy dogs can increase motivation for learning. Intrigued with this information, Dronebarger asked Marcie Kinnard, coordinated school health supervisor, to investigate further and help make it a reality for White County.

Kinnard, whose hope is one day to be able to expand the therapy dog program to the elementary schools as well, said the dogs will help reduce stress, anxiety, and even blood pressure for both students and faculty members.

After research and attaining approved funding in the amount of $2,500 from the school board, Apollo, a Labradoodle, and Webster, a Goldendoodle, were purchased from a breeder, in West Tennessee. The dogs were chosen based on the personality traits and demeanor for which their breeds are best known.

Both dogs are now being trained in the Dyersburg City Schools Bonding and Training Program and should complete their training and be ready to join the school staff in White County, in May.

Apollo (WCHS)

Richard Bumbalough, behavior specialist with White County schools, said he is looking forward to meeting Apollo and Webster. According to Bumbalough, therapy dogs show a range of benefits that include increased attendance and gains in confidence among students as well as improved relationships among peers and teachers as students experience trust and love.

“Adolescent years can be especially challenging as students navigate the increased academic and social demands of middle and high school,” said Bumbalough. “Childmind.org reports that nearly one in three adolescents (31.9 percent) will meet criteria for an anxiety disorder by the age of 18. Introducing therapy dogs is another innovative example of how White County schools are addressing the mental health needs of our students.”

The dogs will stay with host families who will care for their everyday needs as well as be responsible for the costs associated with feeding and caring for the dogs. The hosts will then bring the dogs to school each day.

Tracey Lowery, librarian at the middle school, will be hosting Webster both at home and at school.

“I am very excited to have Webster be a part of our staff,” stated Lowery. “My students are excited to have a dog in the library. No matter how some feel about dogs, dogs can bring happiness and comfort to many.”

“We all know dogs make people happy,” Farrah Griffith, White County Middle School principal, added. “Having Webster in our building is exciting for students and adults. Webster will spend most of his time in the library but will be available to visit classrooms and students throughout the building. If he brings joy and excitement for kids and staff, as I know he will, the rewards will be immeasurable.”

“My family is honored and excited about the opportunity to be a host family for Apollo,” Laura Everett, WCHS special education teacher, said in reference to the high school’s dog moving in with her. “I feel like this is an amazing opportunity to provide a service to our students that is very forward thinking, and I am very proud to be a part of this program.”

In addition to improving mental and physical health, Kinnard said they hope to see the dogs aid the students in academics as well. She pointed to studies that showed an increase in literacy levels within schools that have therapy dog programs.

“There are also studies that show that students that have a low reading level benefit from reading to therapy dogs because it provides them a non-judgmental atmosphere,” said Kinnard.

“We are so excited to be able to bring therapy dogs into our schools,” Dronebarger concluded. “I have witnessed firsthand how students and adults have benefited from having these animals in a school [setting]. Special needs students, those with anxiety, or someone simply having a bad day, all can benefit from spending time with a therapy dog.

“There is already a buzz of excitement concerning the dogs’ arrival at each school, and I can’t wait to see the difference these animals will make with our students.”

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