Earlier this fall, I was contacted by a community member who was interested in spending some time in our elementary school with her therapy dog, Jazz. Jazz is a black Labrador Retriever that has been certified as a therapy dog through Therapy Dogs of Vermont. I was immediately intrigued by this opportunity, not only as a dog lover, but as a school administrator trying to integrate effective ways to support all students.
“I like reading to Jazz because it is fun.”
After an initial inquiry, I quickly received commitments from ten teachers that were excited about this opportunity and willing to participate. After an orientation with students and staff, we settled into a consistent weekly routine.
“Jazz puts a smile on our face.”
Jazz and her handler Margo Rome spend a half an hour in the classroom making connections with students while they learn and engage in activities. Jazz and Margo often listen while students practice their reading or they participate in Morning Meeting with the entire class. Jazz loves the attention and often lays on her back for belly scratches. Jazz is now a celebrity in our elementary school and is greeted and petted by all as she walks down the hallways.
“Jazz is quiet and calm while we read and she keeps us calm and quiet.”
Research has shown that therapy dogs positively affect our brain chemistry, reducing the stress hormone cortisol while increasing the hormone oxytocin that helps us feel regulated and comfortable. Interactions with dogs have also been found to lower blood pressure and heart rate, leading to a more calm learning environment.
“We love reading with Jazz.”
Our students and staff share that having Jazz and Margo spending time in classrooms has been a positive experience and look forward to their time with Jazz and Margo each week. This resource is another way we can support students that have experienced trauma or that benefit from the opportunity to engage in mindfulness and regulation activities. I encourage you to explore having a therapy dog in your school through Therapy Dogs of Vermont at therapydogs.org. Our school has greatly benefited from participating in this experience.
“I like reading with Jazz because she was listening to me.”
Thomas Walsh is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @educatamount