Meet the facility’s fluffy dogs bringing a ‘daily dose of happiness’ to North West schools
JACKSON, MI – When Miggz, the 14-week-old golden doodle puppy, approaches students in his handler Morgan Ledford’s first grade class, eyes immediately light up and a collective “aww” can be heard as Miggz buries his fluffy fur in a student’s face.
Just a week into his role as the settlement dog in Ledford’s classroom, the newest member of the Northwest Early Elementary School team already seems to have a way with the kids — and apparently the staff, said Tracy Ledford, Ledford’s mother and first grade team teacher.
“Even the staff light up when she walks them down the halls,” she said. “It was unreal.”
Miggz is one of two hands-on learning dogs at Northwest Early Elementary as they undergo weekly training with the organization Canines for Change to officially become settlement dogs, who are expertly trained to work in health care, visiting or educational facilities.
The dogs were donated to community schools in the North West through Grand Ledge-based Canines for Change, which provides lifelong training to the district’s eight dogs at a cost of $10,000 per dog . The district paid for the training of the dogs through the Federal Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund.
Canines for Change still owns the dogs until they turn one year old to 14 months old and pass their test to be school-based certified after obedience training.
At that time, all eight dogs will belong to the district, with teachers across the school being able to check on the dogs for blocks of time daily. The dogs will all live with their handlers, who are all Northwest teachers.
This includes Ledford, who asked the district to consider a settlement dog team after seeing how bringing his beagle to school has brightened students’ days in the past.
While pursuing her master’s degree at Spring Arbor University in Trauma and Resilience in Education, Ledford said she heard about Canines for Change and the positive impact it was having in Grand Ledge public schools.
Dogs are trained to be good with children, making them the perfect companion to read, bring before a test to relieve anxiety, or help students who may be struggling with trauma or a speech problem.
“It’s a sense of belonging,” Ledford said. “Some children don’t have a dog at home. A dog can do much more than a human – just be in the presence of a dog.
Ann Lincoln, a second-grade teacher at Northwest Early Elementary, immediately saw how quickly a dog can change behavior in a classroom when she brought Harley, an 11-week-old black Bernedoodle, Harley.
Sliding on the floor from one group of students to another, Harley got tired quickly on her first visit to school on Monday, May 16.
“She’s not going to last very long,” Lincoln said.
Lincoln owns a gold retriever who is a therapy dog and sees the value in being a dog handler for Harley, who will have the ability to positively impact student days just by showing up.
“They know – they’re instinctive, they go to the kids who need it without even saying a word,” she said. “It’s just amazing the calming effect they have on children and their reading. There is no judgment; dogs don’t judge. They can sit and read and if it’s not the exact right words, there’s no pressure to be correct. It’s fantastic the effect they have on the children and adults in the building.
At Northwest Kidder Middle School, Sarah Runkel, an English/Language Arts teacher, said Sunny, a 14-week-old Golden Doodle, was a hit with all of her students, who took on the role of sort of owner of the dog before it can be shared with the rest of the school.
Runkel has two other dogs at home and didn’t hesitate when she heard about the opportunity to be a dog handler for Sunny.
It was an opportunity to do something she loves that would give back to her students and the school, Runkel said.
“Immediately when they walked in, they were like, ‘Oh my God, that’s a puppy,'” Runkel said of the students’ reaction to Sunny’s arrival. “He’s happy to see everyone and his little tail wags all the time. When he sees a person, he says to himself: “We are going to see this person. It was really cool to see, even with the staff. They say, “This is going to be my daily dose of happiness.”
Although Monday marked only Sunny’s second visit to Runkel’s class, the students said they fell in love with the young pup.
“Dogs have been my favorite animal for as long as I can remember,” said eighth-grader Holly Tappan. “I begged my family for a dog for maybe two or three years and then I finally got one and now there’s one at school and I love having a dog around me every time that I can.”
These teachers are making sure students keep making music during the pandemic
Northwest High School heads to Golden Gala for Prom 2022
Here are the best teachers of 2022 honored by Jackson Magazine