Welcome to Ollie and Paul, our new therapy dog staff members at West Hills and Lone Pine!
Beginning this fall, students and staff at West Hills and Lone Pine have been thrilled to welcome therapy dogs into the schools’ classrooms. Throughout the remainder of this school year, the goal is to place therapy dogs in every Bloomfield Hills School.
Ollie At West Hills
Ollie, a 16 month old yellow lab, became a West Hills staff member on Monday, September 20th. 5th grade teacher Jen Bratton is Ollie’s host; Ollie spends the day at school, and goes home each day with Bratton. “Ollie brings a lot of joy and comfort to our classroom,” shares Bratton. “Students are excited to see him when they first arrive at school. For a student that may have had a difficult morning for any number of reasons, Ollie quickly helps to change their mood and offers lots of kisses. Ollie has the ability to instantly change the mood of a student as soon as they see him. Students are excited to read or work independently around the room because they know Ollie will roam around to visit and eventually choose a spot to lay with students as they work. The benefits of the new therapy dog program within BHS are exponential! These dogs become playmates on the playground for those students who need one, a reading buddy for someone to read with, a story creator for those who are looking for something to write about, a soothing companion when taking an assessment, and so much more!”
Ollie is already a valued part of the classroom. 5th grade student Elliot Prendergast shares, “I love having Ollie in my classroom. There isn’t a single kid in my class that doesn’t like Ollie. If he walks up to you, you can play with him and you can snuggle with him during reading time. I think that he brings a lot of happiness to my whole class.”
Principal Andy Gignac adds, “Since his arrival, Ollie has been getting acclimated to West Hills. Our students and staff have been excited to meet him and look forward to Ollie being able to spend time in many rooms in the coming weeks. We have already noticed the calming effect he has had with students in the classroom and on the playground. Much credit goes to Mrs. Bratton, who is our host for Ollie. She has been committed to helping Ollie become familiar with the building, staff, and students since he joined our team! WHMS has had about 15 staff members trained as handlers of Ollie. The training has helped our staff understand how to properly guide Ollie so that we reinforce the incredible training he has already had. This will afford more classrooms the opportunity to host Ollie as a guest. As one of the two first schools to have a therapy dog in BHS, we look forward to sharing the process of onboarding a new canine staff member with other BHS schools in the coming months.”
Paul At Lone Pine
At Lone Pine, Paul, a three year old yellow lab, is hosted at the home of Principal Dr. Mary Hillberry at “Hillberry Farm.” Since arriving as a staff member on September 27th, Paul has spent time in a variety of classroom settings. Resource Room teacher Stefanie Cromar shares, “Paul’s crate is in the Resource Room, and he spends some time in my room when small groups of students are working with me. The majority of his time is spent visiting different general education classrooms throughout the day while he is with Mrs. Greenspan, who is the paraprofessional in the resource room. He spends a lot of time in Ms. Bortolotti's 2nd grade, Ms. Endres' Kindergarten, and Ms. Ellison's 1st grade classrooms. The biggest immediate impact I have seen so far is the spark of joy that many of the students get when they see Paul each day!”
Pamela Greenspan adds, “Paul has been such a bright light for Lone Pine and all of its students and staff! The students get off the bus with the biggest smile on their faces, as they are immediately greeted by Paul. Students love how soft, kind, and gentle Paul is. He has been especially supportive and comforting during small reading and math groups. The students beam with excitement if they see Paul in the hallway walking by their classroom. During a classroom visit, students swarm around to pet him and talk to him. Paul is exactly what we all needed during an especially challenging school year and we are all so lucky to have him!”
Principal Hillberry shares, “Paul is truly a rockstar at Lone Pine, with an ardent fan club of students and staff. He starts his day greeting children at arrival, and spends the rest of his day providing snuggles that have an immediate calming effect on students and staff. He brings a lot of joy to school each day. We've been so fortunate to partner with Paradise Dog Training and have received significant support from their staff in training the humans here to succeed with this wonderful, gentle dog. We are excited to see Paul expand his role here at Lone Pine and experience the full benefit that his work will provide our learning community.”
Paradise Dog Training is a company that has helped to train and place dogs in a wide variety of settings, for 25 years. From bed bug detection, to facility therapy dogs, to diabetic alert dogs, and service dogs, this company is dedicated to supporting the health of our communities. Hundreds of their dogs have been placed in hospitals and schools across Michigan. Lori and Jack Grigg, a married couple, have owned and operated Paradise Dog Training since its inception, and will be providing all of the training for staff of Bloomfield Hills Schools. Teaching Bloomfield Hills Schools staff members how to use verbal and physical cues is key to the success of the therapy dog programs. By utilizing consistent commands that the dogs have been trained with, staff will help the therapy dogs acclimate to their new school environments. Lori Grigg explains, “Staff have to take the two hour training course in order to be able to handle the dog. We’re doing two training sessions for the staff per school. Each staff member does two hours of training and then four hours of shadowing. About 16 staff are being trained in each building. Any of those trained staff can have Ollie come into their classes. Every Bloomfield Hills school will receive staff training from Paradise Dog Training.”
Margaret Schultz, Director of Instructional Equity and Title IX Coordinator for Bloomfield Hills Schools, has been instrumental in the development of the therapy dog program. Schultz notes, “The trainers have the dogs for several months before they come to us. This is important, because all of our dogs are certified as therapy dogs, so they must go through a certain level of training, along with an assessment, in order to be certified. The trainers then support the host family as the dog transitions to their new home and the school environment. The trainers also come into the school to train staff so that they are confident in handling the dogs during the school day.”
The “Why”... and How to Give!
“I think therapy dogs are important because they help kids who are going through something challenging. I am working on focusing. Paul helps me focus by being calm and helping me feel confident and excited,” says Isaac Kaddouh, a 3rd grade student in Liz Neun’s 3rd grade class at Lone Pine Elementary School. Another 3rd grader, Joslyn Tomina, notes, “He helps me with math. I love teaching Paul what I am learning in math!” And 3rd grade student Briella Johnston shares, “Paul is loving and caring and he helps me stay motivated.” West Hills 5th grader Lara Qasim notes, “One of the reasons I love school so much is because of Ollie! My favorite part about having Ollie in West Hills is being able to have him by my side when I’m taking a test. For example, I always get super nervous, but having him by me makes me super relaxed!” These testimonials speak to the profound impact that therapy dogs can have on students’ mental health and academic success.
Margaret Schultz shares excitement about this new program, and “the positive impact of having a dog at the school on students and staff mental health, and also academic areas like reading. There is significant research to support that having a dog in school supports students and staff both emotionally and academically.”
“Our hope is to start putting dogs in more schools, but as we grow our program it also grows our cost - so we are looking for support from fundraising. As any dog owner could tell you, having a dog comes with a lot of expenses. We need food, beds, insurance, vet visits, grooming, collars, leashes, and other supplies. We are looking for donations of services and also money to support all of these. The additional support helps us to grow the program faster, and also sustain the program long term. If you are able to donate either money or services for our dogs we would love for you to check out the donation page!”
Please reach out to Margaret Schultz if you have any questions about the new therapy dog program.