The ‘dog days’ of middle school

When students arrive at Scotts Ridge Middle School in the morning, they are greeted by more than just principals — they also see the wagging tails of Emmy and Grady, the school’s comfort dogs. These four-legged friends have been members of the SRMS community for more than two years. They welcome students to school in the morning, attend classes, and assist students in the guidance suite before heading home for the night. Not your typical SRMS students, these 3-year-old comfort dogs are brought to school by Assistant Principal Lisa Frese and school psychologist Kim Van Allsburg to support all the middle school students.    

Research shows that dog-adolescent interactions have many benefits, including fostering positive emotions, relieving anxiety and simply stimulating laughter and conversation. Grady, who is a certified comfort dog (ROAR), joins Mrs. Van Allsburg in her office two days a week and provides students with support while they meet with their guidance counselor or school psychologist. Petting a dog increases levels of oxytocin in humans, which lowers heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels in stressful situations. Grady’s presence can help decrease anxiety, and enables students to work through issues such as anger, bullying, and other social problems. In the short time that Grady has been “working” at SRMS, teachers and staff have come to feel he is one of the most helpful tools they have to calm a distressed student.

Emmy, owned by Ms. Frese, can be found at SRMS almost every day. Due to her wonderful disposition and unflappable nature, she is a Guiding Eyes brood dog. Her role is slightly different from Grady’s, as she is deployed into classrooms throughout the day to provide a break to students. “Comfort dogs are a cost-effective and accessible way to comfort struggling students so that they can focus and engage in the classroom,” said Ms. Frese. “Dogs are an increasingly familiar part of school programs across the country, and concerns about allergies and fears about safety are steadily giving way to higher reading scores and improved social interaction because of these lovable assistants.”  

The students at SRMS love it when Emmy attends their class. “When Emmy comes in, she sniffs around the room and eventually lies down on a beanbag with students or under the teacher’s desk,” said Joey Cerulli, sixth grade student. “She just hangs out. Sometimes she will sit by a student’s feet. We all want her to sit by us so we can pet her. She’s such a great dog.”

This article was written by Kirstin Cerulli, SRMS PTA publicity representative. The SRMS PTA sponsors programs that provide academic and social enrichment to the middle school community.