PERRYVILLE, MO (KFVS) - The Perry County School District #32 added a couple more staff members to work with the students this school year. However, they help comfort students without saying a word.
The school district has brought in four therapy dogs to help the students with anxiety, diagnosed behavior issues, students with trauma and also to be there to add to the positive climate in the classrooms.
Perry County District Autism and Behavior Consultant Jenn Farmer Henry said when a student sees one of the dogs, it has an immediate positive impact.
"The smile immediately," Farmer Henry said. "The 'aww, it's a dog.' Both for staff and students. It just brings a feeling of safety. It brings a feeling of happiness. And when you are happy, you learn better."
Farmer Henry takes care of three of the dogs and brings them to the various classrooms as needed.
"It's pretty awesome. It's like bringing your best friend to work everyday," Farmer Henry mentioned. "It helps them and it helps me. I don't have to work as hard sometimes because the dog does the work for me."
Leslie Ackermann, Perryville Elementary Behavior Resource Teacher, helps the children with her therapy dog named Jasmine. Jasmine's first day of school was back in October and has been working with the students ever since.
"Jasmine has been a great help," Ackermann stated. "There is just something about a dog that just totally changes the tone of your classroom. I have some high need students that really struggle with emotional regulation. She (Jasmine) really helps them keep track of themselves and calm them down. She is a great listener."
Ackermann added that these dogs are able to help out the students because the dogs are a comforting outlet for them in which they can trust.
"I've seen students just melt," Ackermann explained. "I've seen students just come in with their face clinched, fists clinched and just ready to just punch something. They they will literally just melt for her (Jasmine) as soon as they come in contact with her. I almost view it as she is just absorbing their anger."
The program started earlier this year with just one therapy dog first. At that point, they issued some rules for the general students for when the dogs enter the classrooms.
"They stay in your seat and cannot call on the dog," Farmer Henry explained. "If the dog comes by them then they can reach out and pet it. However, if it becomes too much of a distraction, I have to leave with a dog. I have never had to tell that twice to a classroom."
Lessons in the classrooms do not stop when a therapy dog enters the room. Students are required to pay attention to the teachers and do their assigned work as the dogs are there as a tool to assist the students if they need the extra comfort.
"I think she is like an employee," Ackermann said about her dog Jasmine. "She does her job and comes here everyday. I can't imagine doing it without her anymore because she is so vital to the success of my classroom."
To become a therapy dog, they go through basic obedience training and their certification is through therapy dogs international.
To follow the dogs progress and interaction with the students, they have their own Facebook page called Perryville Pirate D32. https://www.facebook.com/D32piratedogs/