RCSD: Canine therapy program in schools

ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) – Two schools in the Rochester City School District are using therapy dogs for students, and school board teams say it works wonders for mental health.

On Thursday, a few different classes at the School of the Arts received special visits from the four-legged friends.

Sherry Vandermallie-Nash is a gym teacher at SOTA. She helped launch the program before the pandemic hit, putting it on hiatus for two years.

“Not only did it put a break on the dogs being able to come in and join the kids, live with us, but it also put a break on the training classes, so the dogs couldn’t bring in new ones. teams because they don’t have the essential training to qualify to be a training dog,” she said.

Now the program is operational again. With the goal of eventually reaching more schools across the district.

Vandermallie-Nash says the effect on students’ socio-emotional well-being is profound.

“Kids in the building who don’t know me, I’m ‘dog lady.’ They say, ‘Miss, miss, are the dogs here today?’” she said.

“One of the most important things is to open up, it’s funny how open you can be when you’re sitting there petting a dog, there’s this comfort zone,” Vandermallie said. -Nash.

One of her favorite moments with the dogs involves the music and she describes the first time Aidan Killigrew pulled out a harmonic, serenading their beagle.

The two instantly connected.

“Kacie ended up resting her head on my hand,” Killigrew said. “Dogs can give you a kind of icebreaker if two people love dogs, people can share experiences with their own dogs.”

Dogs bring a unique experience for everyone: whether it’s in the classroom, in the hallways, or even the daily announcements

“If we don’t provide the support, they won’t get it. Our kids need it and they need it from us,” Vandermallie-Nash said. Dogs undergo a 10-part test in order to be allowed into schools to serve as certified therapy dogs.

Therapy Dogs International has over 90 teams here in the Rochester area.

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