At The Downtown School, a couple of canine counselors pay occasional classroom visits to support students. This week Daphne and Frankie – along with their human, third/fourth grade teacher Kathleen Feeney – worked with students on a culminating lesson around self-regulation, listening and connections.
The lessons use the dogs to help students focus their minds on their impulses and attention for in-person classroom settings, a need after many students may have gained different habits over the past year or two of online learning.
“My interest is with mental health and have long understood the need for mental health support in schools,” noted Feeney. “I have been teaching since before Columbine, and I am committed to supporting children and promoting community awareness around mental health.”
She credited AMOS (A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy) with encouraging her to “start small” and so she is currently focused on The Downtown School but is willing to use her personal time to visit other schools with an interest and need.
“My goal is to reduce office referrals by 50% within two years of regular ‘dog lessons,'” Feeney added. “I am also researching the impact of dogs on academic performance, once a community of peace and safety is developed on a campus.”
Feeney has worked with the school’s counselor, Dawn Coppinger, to develop the program and thanks principal Rob Burnett for affording the opportunity to launch it at the school in the hopes other schools throughout the district may also make use.
“A few days with dogs and mindfulness lessons can make a powerful and dramatic difference on a campus,” said Feeney. “It also ensures teachers have some new tools to share with students on their campuses.”