The Jersey Shore school board is considering a canine establishment | News, Sports, Jobs
JERSEY SHORE — A real dog could join the ranks of the Jersey Shore Bulldogs as a service dog if the board approves a request to add the position to its staff.
With what they described as “A tiny little thing that could make a huge difference in our school climate,” teachers Stephanie Machmer and Patty Hess proposed to the Jersey Shore School Board the purchase of a facility dog, which would be primarily in high school, but could eventually be used in other buildings in the district.
“One of the things that I think we are all aware of is the mental health of our students,” said Hess, a physical education teacher in the district.
“Those are some of the reasons we are pursuing him – socio-emotional issues, mental health, specific crisis intervention, school attendance,” she says, adding that several studies show how canine interventions can benefit students in these situations.
A facility dog would be involved in working with school counselors during counseling sessions.
“All of our guidance counselors are on board. In fact, they are excited about this possible opportunity,” said Hess.
School counselors would like to start group sessions to deal with student anxiety and the dog could be used in these sessions.
The dog would also be useful in calming students following episodes of class disruption.
“If they need to get a student out (of the class) for whatever reason, just having the dog there calms them down a bit at that time,” she says.
“We’re not looking at this just in high school, but the dog could be used in elementary school summer programs,” said Hess.
Students could also read to the dog to hone their reading skills.
“The possibilities are limitless,” said Hess.
Issues to discuss before bringing an establishment dog on board include the legal responsibilities involved, animal care and maintenance, fear of dogs, and allergies.
Under the model proposed by the teachers, the district would purchase the dog with grant funds. Liabilities would then be covered by district insurance, which Hess said would be minimal, according to his research. She added that if the district approves the purchase of the dog, the exact amount of insurance could be determined.
Students can opt out of programs with dogs if they have allergies and there are also hypoallergenic dogs.
Parents and students would be educated on how to handle and interact with the dog.
“The students are trained in the approach of the dog. This is a working dog at the school so any student with allergies would retreat and the dog would be kept out of that area,” said Hess.
Servicing and maintenance would be provided by Machmer. He came to school and went home with her and stayed with her during the summer. She would also assume all maintenance, care and grooming of the dog.
If students are afraid of dogs, the school dog could provide an opportunity to overcome this fear, but it would also be kept away from students who are afraid.
The dog will not roam freely in the hallways; he will always be on a leash and with one of three handlers who are ready to be trained, Hess said.
Machmer, who teaches special education life skills in the district, plans to use the dog as part of the accountability aspect of his class.
“We would be responsible for getting him where he needs to be. He would have a schedule just like the students because he is a working dog,” said Machmer.
“They have time off” she says. “They have times when they need to get out. I would like my students to take care of this aspect.
“But the counselors, our healthcare staff and different people would be the teachers or the managers who would take them to scheduled rooms or counseling sessions,” Machmer added.
Program details will need to be worked out if and when the board approves the proposal. The process can take up to two years.
“We just want your permission to be able to pursue this, to apply to some of them to see if we’d even be approved. There’s so much grant money out there right now to help our students with their mental health, put to apart from the cost of insurance which is very low compared to the benefits, we think we can cover the rest with the grant money,” said Machmer.
The proposal will be put on the agenda for a vote at the next board meeting, said district superintendent Dr. Brian Ulmer.