Things just won’t be the same next year at Cowles Montessori, but we’re not talking about the major construction that’s underway at the school.
The Tracy & Millie Show is just about over.
Counselor/Dean of Students Tracy Lepeltak has been with the district for 38 years. Therapy Dog Millie is in her 10th year (the equivalent of 70?). Both are retiring. Millie’s last day was Monday. Locker #260 has already been emptied.
“I know that she enriched my career as a school counselor and I have been blessed to watch many amazing interactions that she has had with children over the last ten years at Cowles and Mouton,” said Lepeltak. “I am proud that she was the first therapy dog in any metro school district.”
Treat times for Millie were written into lesson plans so substitutes would know the routine in the event of at least one Cowles teacher’s absence. The gentle pooch has served under three principals there and stole each one’s lunch as a rite of initiation.
Her last day was typical in some respects. After plodding down the hall from the office she shares with Lepeltak, Millie wandered into a kindergarten classroom where she became the center of adoring attention. Then she continued on her rounds and was intercepted by a trio of 7th graders who started at Cowles the same year Millie did.
Cori Baker, Julia Moody and Annie Phillips know where Lepeltak keeps the lint rollers kids use to remove the hair that Millie sheds during her encounters with students. The rest of her impact on them and others won’t be so easy to rub off.
“Sometimes when I’m having a bad day I’ll be walking through the halls and see Millie and it always makes me feel better right away,” said Julia.
“I’ve seen the effect Millie has on little kids who might be scared about coming to school,” said Cori. “She’s one of the neat things about Cowles.”
Annie remembers kids competing over Millie. “We used to crowd around her on the teacher’s rug to get a turn to pet her,” she said.
Lepeltak fought for the right to job share with Millie.
“She was specially trained, of course, but I had to get district permission when she first started at Moulton,” Lepeltak said. “She’s done so well that now it’s within each building’s discretion to have a therapy dog.”
There’s one on staff at Wright Elementary now, too. And Orchard Place brings one in every Tuesday. Millie also mentored a therapy dog at a school in Clive.
Lepeltak and Millie are more than colleagues. In addition to being every teacher’s and student’s pet at school M-F, Millie is part of Lepeltak’s family.
“I have to lift Millie in and out of my car because of her arthritis, and it’s getting hard,” said Lepeltak. “We both want to leave while we can still walk out of the building.”
Cowles is the home of the Cougars. But Millie more embodies the Montessori spirit. Pat her head and help yourself to some inner peace.
There will soon be a new gym and music room at Cowles and they will both be great additions. But there’s going to be a big hole to fill that Tracy and Millie dug.