Paws for Success

Paws for Success students with new friends, Maizie and Morgan Sandy Hunwick and Roberta Crandall, two retired teachers, contacted Gail Lohr, a success coach, after reading an article in the Port Huron Times Herald about the Pathways to Potential program at Woodrow Wilson Elementary. Hunwick and Crandall have certified therapy dogs, Morgan and Maizie, that they take to area hospitals but they also wanted to work with kids and attendance issues.

As part of the pet therapy program, Paws for Success, they visit the students with their dogs once a week in an effort to improve school attendance. The program is always at the same time, but on different days of the week for individual classrooms: This encourages students to attend class every day so they will not miss seeing the therapy dogs. Five first-grade students were identified for the program. Each student had missed 18 or more days of kindergarten, ranging up to 25 days. The success coach spoke with parents to build a partnership to reduce absences for their child. Families of some of the students have had some real struggles with medical issues, lice, transportation and parenting skills. Pathways to Potential has helped the parents address these barriers with the focus on improving student attendance.

Because Hunwick and Crandall are certified teachers, they are allowed to take the students out of class. They make sure students complete classroom work, and they also provide other instruction to the children. Some of the children are behind on basic skills due to poor attendance. Activities for all students include reading books to the pet therapy dogs. The dogs sit patiently, listen and cock their heads. The students write letters to the dogs and read letters “from” the dogs. The children also learn about basic care of the dogs, practice following directions and give commands to the dogs, so the dogs can earn a treat for a job well done.

Not surprisingly, the kids enjoy the program very much and ask all the time when they can have pet therapy. Since the program started, classroom teachers have seen improvement in the engagement of students in classroom work and school and in academic skills. After each session, the pet therapy teachers send an email to the classroom teachers, success coach and principal to describe what each child did during the session. Additionally, they send a letter home to the parents to keep them informed of what their child is accomplishing every month. To judge the success of the program, we compared the attendance data for each child from the beginning of the year through Thanksgiving.

 

2014 Days Missed

2015 Days Missed

Comments

Student 1

7.5

2

 

Student 2

5

1

 

Student 3

5.5

3

 

Student 4

11

9

Child has a medical issue

Student 5*

7.5

7.5

Child has a medical issue

*This child started the program later than the others and has made significant progress in missed time since.

 

Paws for Success students with new friends, Maizie and Morgan.

Paws for Success students with new friends, Maizie and Morgan.

A student reading a letter from Maizie.

A student reading a letter from Maizie.