Lindbergh students, staff welcome Charley, the school dog
Peoria Public School building administrators have numerous resources to facilitate Social Emotional Learning (SEL). At Lindbergh Middle School, one SEL resource is a wiggly, friendly 17-week-old bernedoodle with soft black fur named Charley. A mix of Bernese mountain dog and poodle, she still requires many months of training but already Charley has endeared herself to Lindbergh students, staff and families.
Charley is Lindbergh’s “school dog.” School dogs are like therapy dogs but undergo training specifically to accommodate daily life among students and school staff.
When considering how to invest her Golden Apple Award prize money, Malahy spoke with fellow Golden Apple winner Joshua Long, principal of Chicago Public School’s Southside Occupational Academy. Long told her about his school’s therapy dogs. By August, Charley had become Lindbergh’s school dog.
According to PAWS for People, a pet-therapy non-profit organization, therapy dogs can positively impact people’s mental health by inducing calmness, lowering anxiety and agitation, bridging communication gaps and reducing isolation, depression and loneliness. In just the first two weeks of school, Charley’s interactions at Lindbergh illustrates each of these benefits, says Malahy. When Charley interacts with students who often arrive at school behaving angry or sad, their mood visibly improves. Teachers and staff members visit Charley’s penned area in the front office as a mid-day stress reliever. When Malahy and Charley greet students and parents in front of school in the morning, the dog’s presence encourages parents to stop and visit. Charley loves to be outside with students during lunchtime and recess. Students understand that she is still a puppy. They enjoy rewarding her for following a command to sit and understand that Charley needs some quiet time to stay in her crate each day.
School dogs are a growing trend is schools. At Richwoods High School, therapy dogs are a calming influence for students when they visit during finals week. Richwoods guidance counselor Patti Simmons’ 11-week-old labradoodle, Irish – looking almost like Charley’s twin -- shares her office space and welcomes student visitors.
Before the school year, Malahy communicated with parents and staff about Charley, giving them the choice to limit their interactions with her. Hypoallergenic and lowing-shedding, bernedoodles tend to trigger far fewer allergic reactions than many breeds. While school dogs undergo special training for their educational duties, at the end of the school day, Charley goes home with Malahy and interacts well with the family’s dog.