Seven New York City public schools are going to the dogs – literally.
Under a new pilot program, furry four-legged friends are being introduced into classrooms, where kids will get to know them during lessons and breaks.
Each of the schools will get at least one dog assigned to a teacher or staffer, who will facilitate kids’ interactions with the animals. The program is aimed at improving the mood at school and calming kids who may be stressed out because of issues in class or at home.
“This is something that brings new opportunities to students,” City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña told the New York Daily News. “When they’re having a bad day, just to pat a dog can make them feel better. This isn’t a fancy idea; the research shows it to be true.”
Studies have shown the therapeutic benefits of animals; dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression and have lower blood pressure in stressful situations. Playing with or petting an animal can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease those of the stress hormone cortisol. As a result, more therapists are using animals to calm, motivate and teach kids.
Queens teacher Melissa Cerasuolo, whose class includes kids with special needs, says of her adopted terrier Jesse, “The kids are falling in love with her. If kids have behavioral issues, just having the dog around will help them stay calm and control their emotions.”
The only cost involved is an adoption fee of around $250 for each shelter dog. If the program reaps an improved school climate, the city may expand the program.