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Bell Top signBell Top students will have a new four-legged friend in school next year. The school has adopted a Goldendoodle puppy that will be trained as a therapy dog and assist with reading and counseling services.

The Puppy with a Purpose program, which was informed by research and modeled after other similar programs at local schools, was approved by the Board of Education last week. There is no cost for the program due to the generosity of the Southern Rensselaer County Rotary who donated the funding.

The therapy dog will visit Bell Top daily during the school year and be supervised by social worker Jaime Gibbs and reading teacher Carol Willis.

“I am beyond excited for this program,” said Mrs. Gibbs, who will be the dog’s owner. “As a counselor, the possibilities are endless for supporting the social and emotional well-being and needs of students with the presence of a dog.”

Research shows a therapy dog in school helps students in a number of areas:

  • Communicating feelings
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Impulsivity
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Empathy
  • Compassion
  • Social skills
  • Responsibility
  • Reading improvement
  • School avoidance

Mrs. Gibbs plans to incorporate the dog into daily classroom lessons, group counseling and individual counseling.

“I anticipate that the presence of the dog will reduce the amount of time students spend in crisis mode, as petting a dog has a very calming effect on people,” Mrs. Gibbs said. “I also anticipate that for our students who struggle with coming to school every day, when they pull up to the building and see a smiling, happy face of a puppy waiting for them, they will transition from a place of fear and anxiety to that of excitement and joy.”

The dog that will be joining Bell Top was born on June 8, 2018 at a certified and trusted breeder in Lowville, N.Y. The hypoallergenic dog will complete the American Kennel Club S.T.A.R. Puppy Program and the Therapy Dog International Training program.

A letter is going home today to all parents of students returning to Bell Top next year. The letter includes information about the program, a list of frequently asked questions and a consent form for each child to interact with the dog.

“Not only will our therapy dog assist in these areas of social emotional wellness and well-being, the dog will assist with academic support through our reading program,” said Principal Martin Mahar. “Reading to a therapy dog can help to improve students’ reading abilities and confidence, and it can also be significantly less intimidating than reading to a human. These are only a handful of the benefits we look forward to seeing our Puppy with a Purpose bring to our building starting in September.”

For more information, visit Bell Top’s Puppy with a Purpose website.