Civics class makes strides to bringing therapy dogs to LHS

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Allie Marsh, Reporter

Ms. Johnson’s civics class was covering the dreaded subject of school shootings when the idea of getting a therapy dog came up.

“The topic [of school shootings] gets to you after a while,” Johnson said. “The class began to think about what would make us happy and out of nowhere came the idea for a dog, which eventually led to the discussion about a therapy dog.”

The class began brainstorming how to get a therapy dog to provide affection and comfort to students during a time of need or to any student who might benefit from this interaction.

“The comfort could be as simple as relieving stress and just providing a distraction from school work,” junior Hailey Gagnon said.  “Or as incredible as helping a student feel comfortable enough to read out loud and improve their reading skills.”

As of right now, bringing a therapy dog into the school isn’t a done deal, but the class is doing everything they can to fill the hallways with a furry friend.

In the process of their research, the class found which schools in the area already have service dogs, so they could learn from their experience. Juniors Damien Bernadini and Chance Broderick visited Hanover High School to get ideas on how they set up their therapy dog program.

“The level of positivity in the interactions between the students and staff and the therapy dogs was extraordinary,” Bernadini said.

The class worked together to prepare a presentation, which Gagnon and juniors Kaleigh Grant, Nate Raza, and Erika Tsetsilas have presented to the school administration three times.

About a month ago Gagnon accompanied Lynn Wolf, a woman who has worked in the district, with her therapy dog to a long term care facility to get a better idea of what the therapy dogs do.

“It was honestly one of the greatest experiences I have ever had to see the patients react to the dog coming to visit,” Gagnon said. “It brightened all of their days and made them so happy and seeing that made me happy.”

According to Gagnon, in order to be certified as a therapy dog, the dog and owner must pass the Canine Good Citizen test as well as a therapy dog certification test. The certification test includes a large variety of tests that put the dog in situations that they will most likely encounter when visiting hospitals, schools, etc..

This test also includes a temperament test which makes sure that the dog has the right kind of personality to do what is required of a therapy dog.

“Therapy dogs just want to love and be loved in return,” Gagnon said. “It was incredible the impact the dog had on the patients.”

The class has spoken to staff members who would be willing, interested, or knowledgeable about therapy dogs and the certification process. Ms. Considine, a new guidance counselor at LHS, has expressed an interest in becoming a handler. House 1 secretary Mrs. Mitchell has a puppy and has discussed the possibility of getting the dog certified. Reading teacher Mrs. DeMeo is all for the idea of a therapy dog and art teacher Mrs. Holmstead has therapy dogs of her own that she would kindly volunteer to bring in.

However, this is something that wouldn’t happen right away as it is not a part of the pilot program which is to have the dogs in school during finals, SATs, and in reading classes.  The class is talking with the administration to find a space for students to interact with the dog and work out the day to day details that would come with having the dog.

The class believes although the time spent preparing for a dog might be lengthy and difficult at some points in time, the overall outcome on students and staff will be immense.

“Just having a bunch of dogs in the school would be beneficial and help a ton of people who attend LHS,” Gagnon said.

The class still has a long way to go to get a therapy dog, but they aren’t giving up hope just yet.

“When it comes time for us to have meetings with the school board, we will need all the support we can get so anybody who wants to see this happen should attend to show their support,” Gagnon said.

Johnson said the people who have embraced this project have done an immense amount of work.

“The skills they have developed are skills they can’t develop with me sitting in the front of the classroom talking away,” Johnson said.

Even if they are not successful in getting a therapy dog, Johnson said they “learned a lot and enjoyed working on it.”

“This project is teaching them the ways of real life and it is a great opportunity,” said Johnson. “If it goes through, it will help us come together as a school even more.”

Ms Johnson's E Period Civics Class: Back row juniors Mackenzie OLaughlin, Haley Gagnon, Kaighlie? Grant, ? Nelson, Stephanie Legier, Nate Raza, and Damian B? Front Row: Nate Pinelle, Emily ?, Gretchen McGrath, ?, Erica Tsetlis?, Ashley ?, ?
Ms Johnson’s E Period Civics Class: Back row: juniors Mackenzie O’Laughlin, Hailey Gagnon, Kaleigh Grant, Ali Nelson, Stephanie Leger, Nate Raza, and Damian Bernardini Front Row: Nate Pinelle, Emily Parnell, Gretchen McGrath, Julia Sprague, Erika Tsetsilas, Ashley Derosiers, Chance Broderick
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