Karli Swope, a teacher at Milford Middle School, needed a unique way to reach students one summer when she taught the Extended School Year Program. The students, she said, were unhappy to be there, and often showed behavior issues. Karli, a volunteer for the Safe Haven Shelter, offered the students an option. If they behaved for three days, on the fourth day, they would be allowed to go visit the shelter and play with the dogs. The program was so successful, Karli presented the idea to Principal Nancy Carnevale, to continue the program into the school year.
Karli says that the principal was very supportive, and eventually, the program morphed into bringing the dogs to the school rather than taking the students to the dogs. On Wednesday, February 27, Karli’s classroom included not only students, but Callie, a yellow lab and Bambi, a boxer.
“I think it is pretty awesome,” said Corey Mack, one of Karli’s students. “During our free time, when we get to read, we also get to play with and pet the dogs. We have to have our work done before we pet them.” Corey says he has a dog, a cat and a pet lizard at home. Tykee Fisher-Wright echoes Corey’s sentiments.
“I am happy to have the dogs because they are playful and run around,” Tykee said. Ariana Scott liked that the dogs sometimes jump on them, while Andrew Hardy thinks it is a good idea to have the dogs because it “encourages people to do their best in class so they can pet the dogs.” In fact, the dogs help teach students responsibility as students must complete work and behave properly to take care of the dog, such as walking the animal if it needs to go out. If the dog has an accident, the students are responsible for cleaning up.
All dogs used in the program are shelter dogs from Safe Haven, Karli explained, and are all up for adoption. She chooses dogs that are skittish and who do not do well in the shelter setting to not only benefit the students, but to benefit the dog as well.
Originally, the program began at Milford Middle School in the Intensive Learning Center, a special program designed for students with significant behavior and learning problems. Principal Nancy Carnevale says that it was amazing to see the changes the program made in those students.
“I was extremely supportive of this program, and am very happy with the reaction we have gotten from the students involved,” Carnevale explained. “The dogs make it so much easier to turn a kid around who has had a bad day. It is also an extremely effective way to let students see how their actions make others feel, whether it is a person or a dog. It is one of the most effective strategies I have ever seen in dealing with students with emotional or learning disabilities.”
According to Carnevale, every dog brought into the school for the program has found a home, whether adopted by a staff member or one of the students and their families. In fact, Carnevale recalled one young man whose parents told him he could adopt the dog at the end of the school year if his grades and behavior improved. He did both, and his family adopted the dog at the end of the year.
Carnevale is concerned that the closing of the Milford Middle School may bring an end to the program, as students and staff move to the newer Central Academy Building. She is hoping that the administration will see how valuable the program has been at the Middle School and allow Karli to continue a program that is not only a winning situation for the students, but for the dogs as well.