Meet Hopewell Junior's Newest Staff Member

Meet Hopewell Junior's Newest Staff Member
Posted on 02/01/2020
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People in groups with golden retrieverAre schools going to the dogs? At least one in Lakota is. Hopewell Junior School has welcomed Golden Retriever Zooey with welcome paws...or arms.

Members of Lakota’s special services department have been researching different methods to best assist the growing number of students with social and emotional needs. This led to a conversation about bringing a therapy dog into the school. “It was about thinking outside the box and trying something new,” Executive Director of Special Services Andrea Longworth said. While therapy dogs have visited Lakota’s schools for several years, the district has not had one as a dedicated staff member...until now.

After extensive research, Longworth stumbled upon Circle Tail, a non-profit organization that provides service and hearing dogs for people with disabilities. Circle Tail is also the only Assistance Dogs International (ADI) accredited organization in the tri-state area. Once Longworth found out about Zooey, a partnership for a pilot program between Circle Tail and Lakota developed quickly.

Zooey joined the staff of Hopewell in January and has been a welcomed addition. “Parents have been very positive,” said LeAnna Webber, assistant principal and one of Zooey’s handlers at school. “We’ve received several emails and comments thanking us.”

Zooey can be found greeting students and saying goodbye before and after school, as well as manning the hallways during bell changes. While she spends the majority of her time with students in specialized classrooms, she can often be found visiting general education classrooms or as a special guest for a hard-working class. “Students who are experiencing anxiety or who are otherwise struggling during their school day may request time with Zooey, as well,” said Webber. “In a short amount of time, Zooey has been a great benefit to our students,” she continued. “She can often be seen helping students who may struggle with anxiety by being a calm presence in their day.” 

“Zooey is always calm, no matter what,” said one seventh-grade student. “Zooey makes me feel calmer...and I work better when I’m calm.” The student believes that people can learn quite a bit from Zooey’s demeanor. After talking about the latest news headlines such as Coronavirus and the bush fires in Australia, he said “there’s a lot of bad right now, but Zooey is calm - it doesn’t seem to bother her. We can learn from Zooey that we can make situations easier if we’re calm.”

An eighth-grade student agrees. “She’s perfect because she’s so kind and tolerant in everything I do. She helps me calm down and feel better about going to school.”

Through a partnership with Circle Tail and the Hamilton County Educational Service Center, Zooey is part of a Facility K-9 Internship with Lakota for now. Circle Tail provides supplies for her, including food and funding veterinarian visits. Representatives from the Circle Tail also come in for visits to check on her and see if additional training is needed. Zooey lives with a host family, who happens to be a member of Lakota’s special services department.

Zooey and her handlers are members of the district’s crisis team and are called in to provide support for students and staff as needed. “One of the goals for having a therapy dog is to help our students find calmness during an emotional storm,” Longworth continued. But it’s not just students who are benefitting from Zooey’s presence. Staff members can be found stopping to give her a pet in the hallways just as much as the students. 

Longworth is very pleased with the changes Zooey has already brought to Hopewell. “She is bringing a whole new sense of community to the building - she’s a member of the staff as much as she’s the school’s therapy dog.”