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New therapy dog comes to South Elementary School

South Elementary will soon have a very special employee,
whose job will be to make the school a more welcoming place and help students
going through rough times. Principal Krista Birk said that mini Goldendoodle
Teddy is just the dog for the job.


Through a $5,000 grant from the NoVo Foundation and
Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, the school was able to purchase Teddy and
get him in training to be a certified therapy dog.


Teddy currently visits the school on a regular basis to get
familiar to the environment, but he stays in the office area to limit his
interaction with students until he is properly trained.


Assistant Principal Christine Zirges said the idea of adding
a therapy dog at South came from the District’s work on finding ways to promote
social and emotional learning in a more effective way. She said they found an
article about therapy dogs in school buildings and decided to give it a try
when the grant was available.


The school applied for the grant in April, and Zirges said
they found out they received the grant on the last day of school in May. The
grant covered the purchase of the dog, toys and food, veterinarian bills and
training for Birk and School Counselor Allison Devers. Busch Pet Products
decided to sponsor Teddy and will cover costs in the future.


Teddy was chosen because of his temperament, size and
non-shedding fur. “The non-shedding quality was really important for
allergies,” Zirges said. Teddy will grow to be 30 pounds, so he will stay a
good size for elementary students to play with him safely.


The school worked with ShoalCreek Goldens and Doodles in
western Missouri and Birk picked up Teddy a few weeks ago. Teddy will soon be
enrolled in a six-week obedience training at Canine Clipz, the first step to
becoming a certified therapy dog.


“One of the biggest roles that we hope that Teddy will
fulfill is that social/emotional capacity,” Birk said. “It’s been proven that
students who have trouble socializing will socialize better with animals and
they can practice those skills before they socialize with their peers.”


She added that Teddy will also help students who have
trouble regulating their emotions. “For students who are deregulated in
controlling their emotions, we are hoping that Teddy will serve as that buffer
and help calm them,” Birk said.


Teddy will work with not only students attending South, but
also students in the ACES program, which provides students mental health
services from the Community Counseling Center.


Teddy will meet with students during counseling classes, but
will also attend recess, where students will be able to take turns walking and
playing with him.


Birk expects Teddy to make the school a happier place to be
– not just for students but also for the adults who work there. She mentioned
having a dog at your work place has been known to lower blood pressure and make
the work environment feel less sterile.


Teddy has already been a hit at the school, with Birk saying
many of the students ask about him. “I’ve told the students that we are hoping
that around Christmas time, Teddy will be able to fully take on his role,” she
said.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past four years. He can be reached at cbjedit@socket.net.

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