California Educator

June/July 2019

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Service Dogs Help Educators, Too E V E R Y O N E L O V E S golden retrievers — it's a scientific fact. And as Halle ambles around the State Council of Education meeting, the reac- tion of CTA leaders upon sight of her proves it. But Halle is more than the fluffy, friendly unofficial mascot of CTA State Council. She is a medical alert and response dog, specifically trained to partner and work with educator Laura Finco, vice president of the San Ramon Valley Education Association (SRVEA). While Halle is keenly alert to Finco's disability, she is also aware of and sensitive to those around her, often approaching others who she detects are stressed, not feeling well, or just in need of some unconditional love. When Finco was working in a classroom every day, Halle was busy changing lives in her own way. Halle once made friends with a chron- ically absent student, who would come to first period class just to spend time with her furry friend. The relationship changed the way the student felt about school, and today she is a senior in high school headed for university. Finco says Halle also had such a calm- ing effect on a student named Ishy that Ishy's IEP (Individualized Education Pro- gram) had a provision that he could visit Halle any time he needed. "Halle is a magnet for students," Finco says. "Just being around her brings calm to a room." Without her service dog Shadow, art teacher and SRVEA member Jennie Drummond might not be able to go outside because of her panic disor- der. Shadow is trained to check her heart rate and anxiety levels, and she responds when Drummond exhibits anxiety symptoms. Drummond says that because her disabilities are not visible, people often assume that Shadow is around for fun, despite her service vest and badge. "She's a working pup who is trying to focus on helping me," Drum- mond says. "The biggest struggle has been students I do not know yet and staff trying to pet her or distract her without my permission." Drummond says she doesn't know what she'd do without her. "Before Shadow, being anywhere outside my home on my own was dif- ficult, almost unbearable. With her, I feel like I can do almost anything, because I know I am taken care of in the event of a flare-up." contributions to the school community. The dogs are an important part of the school environment, so much so that even when Snipes is away, her paraeduca- tors pick up Zip and Mick from her home to bring them to class. And it 's not only the students w ho benefit. Every morning, Snipes takes the dogs for a walk through the school's front office, where the staff are counting on their visit. "It just makes our whole day. We're always so happy to see Zip and Mickey," says counselor and DTA member Ellen Shields, as the dogs take treats from her hand. "e impact on the school climate that these guys have made is amazing." Holmes has one more dog with a big impact on students: special education teacher Cori Schneider's poodle Doro- thy. Schneider, also a DTA member, says there's something special about the rela- tionship between kids and dogs. "e way Dorothy looks at students makes them feel seen, wanted and loved , which is what you want for all students." While the benefits are striking, Allen cautions that bringing therapy dogs into the classroom is a big responsibility. Not only do they need the temperament and patience for six hours of eager, poking, prying and not always gentle hands, Allen says, but helping people is their job. Just like a teacher after a long day with stu- dents, Levi also needs some me time, which means an hour of exercise before and after school. "It takes a lot of work outside of class to let him get the energy out," Allen says. "He's working all day. He needs his time." Right now, Levi is working on a short nap while lying on a reading student's lap. And it looks like neither could possi- bly be happier. " With Shadow, I feel like I can do almost anything because I know I am taken care of." — Jennie Drummond, San Ramon Valley Education Association Medical alert and response dog Halle, with Laura Finco behind her. Inset: Shadow wears #RedForEd. 37 J U N E / J U L Y 2 019

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