The DOE’s headquarters at Tweed Courthouse in Manhattan has gone to the dogs.
Comfort dogs, that is.
At a kickoff event held at Tweed on December 16, the NYC Department of Education announced the launch of its new Comfort Dog Pilot program for select City schools.
Thanks to a partnership between the North Shore Animal League and staff members from the DOE’s Office of Counseling and Support Programs, seven City schools have started a pilot program that incorporates the use of rescued comfort/therapy dogs in their classrooms. This pilot is based on research conducted over the past 30 years that shows that therapy dogs can offer social-emotional and physical support for children. Therapy dogs can also be used to help students fulfill educational objectives, such as learning how to read, utilizing turn-taking during student activities, and making eye contact during public speeches.
The schools who are piloting this program are:
- P.S. 75 Emily Dickenson (Manhattan)
- M.S. 266 Park Place Community Middle School (Brooklyn)
- J.H.S. 88 Peter Rouget (Brooklyn)
- P.S. 200 The Benson Elementary School (Brooklyn)
- J.H.S. 014 Shell Bank (Brooklyn)
- P.S. 209 Clearview Gardens (Queens)
- P.S. 176 (Bronx, District 75)
Representatives of each participating school were in attendance at Tweed during the kickoff event, and they were all able to meet with various members of the DOE’s senior leadership, including Chancellor Carmen Fariña, Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose, and Deputy Chancellor Corinne Rello-Anselmi, to talk about the pilot and their experiences with their dogs.
Before each dog was assigned to a City school, they were evaluated behaviorally by the North Shore Animal League. The dogs were assessed based on their temperament, and recommendations were then made about the ages of the children with whom they should work. Once the dogs were selected by the North Shore Animal League, each pilot school had to have at least one staff member who was willing to agree to adopt a selected dog permanently, as this staff member would be responsible for the dog’s well-being after school hours and during weekends when it would not be in school comforting students.
To incorporate the comfort dogs into their day-to-day instruction and counseling, each pilot school started using The Mutt-i-grees Curriculum, a free social-emotional learning curriculum from the North Shore Animal League, to inform their lesson planning and student engagement strategies. Lessons under this curriculum have a dual focus on children and animals, and each lesson plan includes objectives and activities that feature principles in child development and humane education.
“This is something that brings new opportunities to students,” said Chancellor Fariña when asked about the pilot. “When students are having a bad day, just patting a dog can make them feel better. This isn’t a fancy idea; the research shows it to be true.”
In addition to the pilot school students and faculty members in attendance during the Tweed event, representatives from New York Therapy Animals (NYTA), an affiliate of the R.E.A.D. program, were on hand to discuss their own work with students using therapy dogs. Unaffiliated with the DOE’s Comfort Dog Pilot, volunteers from NYTA have already been working with select schools over the past few years to provide struggling students with opportunities to practice reading out loud to therapy dogs. Thanks to their work, volunteers from NYTA have seen students with anger issues, ADHD, self-regulation issues, and speech/language impediments steadily improve their behavior, reading levels, and self-confidence following each 15-20 minute reading session with their therapy dogs.
While the DOE’s Comfort Dog Pilot program is only active at seven City schools for the time being, we are incredibly excited about what is potentially possible thanks to wonderful pooches like these. In the meantime, check out the following photos of these wonderful dogs with their humans!