JACKSON, Mich. — Miggz is a four-month old Golden Doodle. He comes to school every day with Morgan Ledford, a first grade teacher at Northwest Early Elementary School near Jackson
Miggz, along with several other furry companions is part of the Canines for Change program.
“Every single student that we come in contact with has been through some sort of trauma,” Ledford said. “I mean, we look at the pandemic, that’s a form of trauma. We see it in this school as kids acting out, not wanting to do their work. Just having a dog here at the school, it’s like a piece of home.”
Ledford became interested in the Grand Ledge-based program after reading about it last year. The Spring Arbor University graduate who has master's degree in trauma and resiliency got information for the program and brought it the board of education in hopes Northwest would implement it.
Superintendent Geoff Bontrager said they fell in love with it.
“It was something I’m very thankful that our Board of Education loved it as well,” he said.
Right now there are three dogs working at Northwest Early Elementary while they’re in training.
They will continue training weekly until they are 12 to 14 months old. The dogs are owned by Canines for Change, which will donate them to the district.
The handler received a $1,500 annual stipend to cover the cost of food, grooming and vet expenses.
The dogs will go through a test to be a certified facility dog. In the end, the school district will have eight facility dogs. Two per building.
What does a facility dog do?
According to Ledford, they provide support to the students and faculty. The dogs act as a reading partner to help build confidence and they spend one-on-one time with students having a rough day.
“We had a student that was having a really rough day,” Ledford said. “He wouldn’t walk down the hallway. He wouldn’t talk to anybody, so I asked him if he wanted to walk Miggz to gym and he immediately got up and grabbed Miggz’ leash and walked him to gym.”
How does it work?
Facility dogs would be signed out to specific classrooms or teachers throughout the day. The dogs would be with the handler and available for students who are having a rough day. They will greet students as they arrive and say goodbye as they leave.
“You see somebody having a bad day that’s able to spend some time with one of the dogs and you can see the soothing effect that the dog has on the student,” Bontrager said.
A facility dog will work for around 10 years or until the school and the handler decide the dog needs to retire.
“Kids are resilient,” Ledford said. “They’re going to bounce back but just getting them to the point where they can bounce back, I think this program can really help the kids and benefit them in that way.”
The district paid for training through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.
Other school districts in the area are using Canines for Change including Grand Ledge Public Schools and Ingham County Academy. Potterville and East Lansing are considering the program.
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