JACKSON, MI – When Miggz, the 14-week-old golden doodle puppy approaches students in her handler Morgan Ledford’s first grade classroom, eyes immediately light up and a collective “aww” can be heard as Miggz buries his fluffy fur into the face of a student.
Just one week into his role as a facility dog in Ledford’s classroom, the newest member of the Northwest Early Elementary School team already seems to have a way with children – and apparently staff, Ledford’s mother and first grade team teacher Tracy Ledford said.
“Even the staff light up when she walks him down the halls,” she said. “It’s been unreal.”
Miggz is one of two dogs learning on the job at Northwest Early Elementary as they go through weekly training with the Canines for Change organization to officially become facility dogs, which are expertly trained to work in a health care, visitation or education settings.
The dogs were donated to Northwest Community Schools through Grand Ledge-based Canines for Change, which provides training for the district’s eight dogs throughout their lifetime at a cost of $10,000 per dog. The district paid for training for the dogs through the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.
Canines for Change still owns the dogs until they turn a year to 14 months old and take their test to be certified in a school setting following obedience training.
At that point, the eight dogs will belong to the district, with teachers throughout the school being able to check out the dogs for blocks of time on a daily basis. The dogs will all live with their handlers, who are all Northwest teachers.
That includes Ledford, who asked the district to consider a team of facility dogs after seeing how bringing her beagle to school brightened the days of students in the past.
While pursuing her master’s degree from Spring Arbor University in trauma and resiliency in education, Ledford said she learned of Canines for Change and the positive impact it had in Grand Ledge Public Schools.
The dogs are trained to be good with children, making them the ideal companion to read with, bring in before a test to ease the anxiety or help students who might be having difficulty with trauma or a speech issue.
“It’s a sense of home,” Ledford said. “Some kids don’t have dogs at home. A dog can do a lot more than a human can – just being in the presence of a dog.”
Northwest Early Elementary second-grade teacher Ann Lincoln immediately saw how quickly a dog can change the demeanor in a classroom when she brought in Harley, a black 11-week-old Bernedoodle, Harley.
Sliding across the floor from one set of students to another, Harley quickly tired during her first visit to the school on Monday, May 16.
“She’s not going to make it very long,” Lincoln said.
Lincoln owns a gold retriever that is a therapy dog and sees the value in being a handler for Harley, who will have the ability to positively impact the days of students simply by showing up.
“They know – they’re instinctual, they go to the kids that need it without even saying anything,” she said. “It’s just amazing the calming effect they have on kids and reading to them. There’s no judgment; dogs don’t judge. They can sit and read and if it’s not the exact right words, there’s no pressure to be correct. It’s fantastic the effect they have on the kids and the adults in the building.”
At Northwest Kidder Middle School, English/language arts teacher Sarah Runkel said 14-week-old golden doodle Sunny was a hit for all of her students, who have taken somewhat of an ownership role over the dog before it is able to be shared with the rest of the school.
Runkel has two other dogs at home and didn’t hesitate when she heard about the opportunity to be a handler for Sunny.
This was an opportunity to do something she loves that would give back to her students and the school, Runkel said.
“Immediately when they came in they were like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a puppy,’” Runkel said of students’ reaction to Sunny’s arrival. “He is happy to see everybody and his little tail wags all the time. When he sees a person he’s like, ‘We’re going to see that person.’ It’s been really cool to see, even with staff. They are saying ‘This is going to be my daily dose of happiness.’”
Although Monday marked just the second time Sunny visited Runkel’s class, students said they have fallen in love with the young puppy.
“Dogs have been my favorite animal for as long as I can remember,” Eighth-grader Holly Tappan said. “I begged my family for a dog for maybe two or three years and then I finally got one and now there’s one at school and I just love having a dog around whenever I can.”
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