Dogs help fill educational, emotional roles at local school
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AMMON — Classroom pets are pretty common, but not every school has dogs that provide learning opportunities and emotional support for students like those at Monticello Montessori.
The public charter school uses a holistic approach to learning to meet the needs of its kindergarten through eighth-grade students. As part of the education experience, the school has an Australian Shepherd therapy dog named Jake and a Bichon Frise service dog called Daisy. The animals spend their days interacting with the children, playing at recess and hanging out in classrooms.
“Kids are happy when there are animals are in the room. There’s something interesting going on, something to contemplate and something live that stimulates their curiosity and their imagination,” Monticello Montessori Administrator Erica Kemery said. “Those are important concerns when you’re talking about development of the mind and brain learning.”
One of the curriculum areas at the school is called practical life skills. Students are taught how to perform activities such as washing dishes, folding laundry and wiping floors.
“Anything repetitive like that helps students learn to focus,” Kemery said.
Inside of the practical life curriculum, Kemery explained that care of animals in the classroom comes into play. Students are responsible to clean kennels, feed and water the dogs. On breaks and over the summer, students take them home.
“They (the dogs) teach responsibility and they teach children about taking care of somebody else,” Kemery said. “(Students) also learn empathy by helping the animals.”
While the dogs play an educational role, they also provide emotional aide.
According to the American with Disabilities Act, a service animal is any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.
A therapy animal provides companionship, relieves loneliness and can help with depression, anxiety and certain phobias, but they do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities, the American with Disabilities Act said.
“Students are often brought down to me and they come in where it’s quiet with no outside stimulus and Daisy’s here. They can pet her and talk to her,” Kemery said. “It makes them feel better.”
Kemery believes Jake and Daisy help the teachers and students, especially children with special needs.
She recalls an autistic student who had a difficult time leaving her dad to go to school. But the student visited with Jake a few times a day and now, Kemery said she feels safe.
“I don’t think (having animals in school) can be compared to anything else when trying to calm a child and put them in an environment where they feel safe,” Monticello Montessori School Counselor Taylor Wilhelm said.
Watching students become comfortable in a school environment — thanks to the dogs — is Wilhelm’s favorite part of having Jake and Daisy around.
“For any person, when you’re stressed out and you get to that level of distress, it’s hard to get back to a normal, comfortable state. We see when a child can go and pet or wrap their arms around a dog, they can get themselves calmed down so quickly,” Wilhelm said. “That to us is such a valuable tool.”