Therapy dog seen as positive at Panther Valley

Kim Laird told Panther Valley School Board directors she sees a difference in students who interact with her therapy dog,.

Kim Laird told Panther Valley School Board directors she sees a difference in students who interact with her therapy dog, Dakota.

They behave better. They become more confident. And they learn more about each other, she said.

Laird, an eighth-grade English teacher in the district, is hoping the district will allow her to bring the German shepherd to school more often as part of a canine therapy program.

She’s been bringing the canine to visit special education students and to students enrolled in summer school programs. On Thursday, she asked directors to consider allowing her to bring the dog on a weekly basis to the district’s English as a Second Language (ESL) and Life Skills classes.

“Children naturally gravitate to animals,” she explained.

Dakota, she said, would visit as part of the “The Mutt-i-grees Curriculum.” The national canine therapy program began several years ago as a way to promote social and emotional competence and academic achievement in students.

It also helps bring awareness about the need for homes for shelter pets.

Dakota was rescued by Laird and Rob Barowski, a teacher in the Lehighton Area School District. The two brought the dog to Thursday’s school board meeting.

She also brought copies of the Mutt-i-grees curriculum for directors to peruse. She explained the program was developed in collaboration with Yale University’s School of the 21st Century.

According to an overview provided by Mutt-i-grees, the curriculum provides lessons on social and emotional learning using books and activities.

One lesson of interest, Laird said, is “using” a dog to help youths understand body language. Students learn how their facial expressions, posture, gestures and tone of voice affect interactions with others — and how dogs used body language to communicate with each other and humans.

The board thanked Laird for her presentation but did not make decisions on the program.

In other business, the board unanimously appointed Christopher Kerestes as a director. He will fill the unexpired term of Brian Dolena, who recently resigned from the post.

The board also changed the date of its April meeting to April 6 at 7 pm in the district’s intermediate school.

jwhalen@standardspeaker.com