PARKERSBURG — Van Devender Middle School students Monday morning welcomed the first of three new therapy dogs to the school.
Counselor Christy Bixman introduced Amelia, a 7-year-old golden retriever, to the student body during an assembly. Amelia and two more dogs — Duncan, a 3-year-old golden retriever, and Winston, a three-year-old American shepherd mix — will visit home rooms throughout the school this week so students can interact with the animals in small groups.
“Everyone is really excited,” Bixman said. “I’ve actually had a lot of the boys come up to me and say ‘When will the dogs be here?’ “
Principal Darlene Murphy said the three dogs, which were approved by the Wood County Board of Education last week, will rotate days and will serve as therapy dogs to help calm troubled students and as reading buddies for some of the school’s reading language arts programs.
Bixman said the idea began more than a year ago but officials did not have anything in place at the end of last school year. In August, Franklin Elementary Center was approved for a therapy dog and introduced Molly, a 2-year-old golden retriever.
Vandy officials contacted Franklin and soon after submitted her three dogs for approval. All are certified therapy dogs and have had gone through several years of training, Bixman said.
The dogs act as a calming influence and can sense when a student is distressed and comfort that child. The dogs also can be read to, which studies have found helps encourage struggling readers.
“I think the possibilities are endless,” Bixman said. “I’m really excited for this opportunity.”
Murphy said if the dogs prove useful this year and students react well, she believes the program will continue for as long as Bixman is at the school.