CMS Introduces “Dogs Rule in School” Program

Dogs are miracles with paws.
—Susan Kennedy

Colchester Middle School is piloting a phenomenal program this winter.

Meet Luther, a purebred Golden Retriever who will celebrate his third birthday on February 6. Luther is a certified therapy dog, having begun his training at eight weeks old.

Introducing Luther!

What is canine-assisted therapy? Well, it is a lot of things, but its fundamental purpose is to harness dogs’ comforting and nonjudgmental qualities to create and promote positive environments in a variety of settings.

The documented benefits of canine therapy are vast. As well as helping to create a happy atmosphere, therapy dogs help to increase individuals’ focus and attention, self-esteem, and communication and social skills. They also help facilitate positive interaction and conversation. As a result of canine therapy, many people increase their physical activity and experience an enhanced sense of purpose. Canine therapy often helps to decrease stress and anxiety and even helps to lower blood pressure and heart rates in some people. In academic settings, therapy dogs are especially beneficial by providing a welcome change from routine, and, because they do not mind if a student mispronounces a word or struggles to read aloud fluidly, they help students build confidence and develop a love of reading.

Luther was certified by Therapy Dogs of Vermont, a nonprofit organization comprised of highly trained canine-handler teams who aspire to improve conditions in educational settings, rehabilitative environments, and correctional facilities. Luther has been serving the elderly community for the last two years, and because his human companion—Colchester Middle School’s Deb Maddalena—is also involved in academics and health services (she is an EMT with Essex Rescue), he has been introduced into those arenas, as well.

CMS’s program starring Luther is called “Dogs Rule in School.” As part of this pilot program, Luther will interact with several students over the course of a day—sometimes selected individual students and other times with larger groups. Some students will meet with Luther each week, while other students will meet with him on a rotating basis. He will also visit with a teacher advisory group each day that he is at CMS, and he will participate in some recess periods with students.

There are a number of objectives for the program, including but not limited to:

* developing a schedule to allow all CMS students to interact with Luther (if they wish) one day per week;
* offering Luther’s services as comfort for individual students who are transitioning to a new teacher or caseworker;
* providing a nonjudgmental listener for reading students;
* spending recess with all students, bringing happiness and cheer to anyone who wants to engage with him;
* maintaining a blog that provides information about Luther’s day and how he has helped to bring joy and confidence to students; and
* offering teachers and staff support and positive stimulation.

Luther will always be with his handler, Deb Maddalena, and he will always be on leash, and the professional(s) working with the student(s) will always be present during the scheduled visits. Furthermore, all visits will be entirely voluntary; Luther will not be forced on any student—nor will any student be forced on Luther—in order to maintain a natural and positive experience for everyone involved.

Luther—the lucky dog!—has his own blog! It has information about the Dogs Rule in School program, Q&A about therapy dogs, some of Luther’s events, his profile, and more.

Administrators will evaluate the success of the program after its trial period and determine whether to continue it for the duration of the school year.

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