Facility dog Ferris helps Upper Arlington High School students have a better day

As he walks through the halls of the new Upper Arlington High School, his golden hair glistening as much as it flows, it’s easy to tell that a new kid is in town.

His 500-strong Instagram followers on October 26th certainly underscores his popularity, but also the smiles and impotence of the many students who are the first to come in sight or within reach of Ferris, the one-year-old Golden Retriever who began his role ” UAHS facility dog ​​on October 11th.

“That actually makes my day,” said Junior Lilian Entenmann. “First of all, he’s the cutest dog ever and when I just see his face I cry tears of joy.

“Second, it’s during the study room. I do all of my homework, which is really stressful for me. If he just comes over and I can only stroke him for a few minutes, my day will be a lot better. He is so kind dog. It is definitely comforting to only have one dog in school. “

As students yell around asking to pet Ferris, Cole Griffith, a freshman student with special needs who is designated dog handler that day, makes sure he doesn’t look for dropped food and trash cans. He also strictly instructs Ferris to be “on his heels” when pulling on his leash, gives permission to give pets, and conveniently answers questions about the dog, including his age.

“He’s cute,” Griffith said, cooling off greetings from a crowd of boys and girls walking past him in the hallways or wanting to pet Ferris. “I go around with him and let people give him pets.

“He makes me happy. I like to have him around me. I am happy that I can give him pets.”

For Kim Wilson, a UAHS intervention specialist who works with special education students with multiple disabilities, the answers to Ferris are what she hoped for when she volunteered last summer to take him from Paws with a Cause after the organization Adopting Wayland, Michigan trained him to be a facility dog.

According to Pause with a Cause, facility dogs are working dogs that are specially trained to help more than one person in facilities such as schools or hospitals. “Unlike assistance dogs that serve one person, professionally trained facility dogs work with a trainer or handler to serve multiple people who need social interaction, recreational motivation, comfort and / or a sense of security,” the website says .

Facility dogs are expertly trained dogs that work with an intermediary who works in a health, visiting, or educational facility.

“The two things ensure that students with disabilities become more integrated into the building and then create a more positive atmosphere in the school, which makes school a little more fun,” said Wilson. “Those are the two gates.”

UAHS and district officials have been considering introducing a facility dog ​​since 2019, and Wilson said it had been more than a year of research into how to implement such a program.

This also included securing funding that enabled the district to bring Ferris in without using district funds.

The program was funded by a mix of grants from the Upper Arlington Education Foundation totaling $ 4,000. In addition, UAHS teacher Steve Colahan donated the US $ 1,000 received after being named “Joanie Dugger Educator of the Year” by UA + Ed for the 2020-21 school year.

Financial support came from several funds within UA + Ed, including the Overmyer Family Fund, which was established by UA + Ed Chair Jennifer Overmyer and her husband Dan to raise funds for initiatives in the district that support and support special needs education a sense of belonging in schools.

“Our family set up a fund with UA + Ed in direct response to our firm belief in the incredible work they do to create opportunities for every single student in Upper Arlington,” said Jennifer Overmyer. “We chose a fund that supports special needs and belonging because it reflects the heart of our family.

“Our son, Charlie (11 year old), has Down syndrome and has benefited greatly from programs that have supported his unique socialization and learning needs for generations in Upper Arlington. Every student should feel that they belong in the school. “

While Overmyer supports the analysis of the facility dog ​​program at the UAHS after this school year, she hopes it can continue and expand to other schools in the district.

“Ferris will add great value to the student experience at UAHS as dogs in institutions have been shown to enhance student social and emotional learning,” she said. “We are most pleased about his place in the classroom with multiple disabilities.

“Ms. Wilson will use Ferris as a bridge between students with disabilities and typical students, and he will provide many learning opportunities for students in their classroom to improve communication and introductory skills.”

After Ferris was in high school for It was nine days later that both Griffith and Nick Black, a senior and classmate with special needs, had received instructions on how to deal with Ferris and had shown him around the building under Wilson’s supervision. They are currently the only two special education professionals.

“He spends most of the day in our room,” said Wilson. “The idea is that he’s available in the public areas and the kids can come out of the classroom or hang out (class) Ferris while they work out here.

“So maybe the teachers will bring classes here to hang out and he’ll be here for kids to pet and visit.”

Wilson said she hopes Ferris will help her students develop social and professional skills that will help them after high school.

“It’s problem solving,” she said. “Cole works really hard to pay attention to Ferris and not to let him in the trash can. So it’s a lot not to lose focus.

“At some point they could translate the skills they learned at Ferris into a job at a puppy daycare or as a dog groomer who shuffles dogs back and forth. We also impart professional skills. ”

Wilson added that Ferris had already given her students more insight into the school atmosphere.

“Even with my least-functioning students, it gives us a reason to get out of the room and interact with people,” she said. “Even when they are not speaking, they can listen and follow instructions and connect other children in the building with other people.”

Before going on a trip to the new high school, Black said he enjoyed learning how to interact with Ferris, in part because of his affinity for dogs.

“Dogs are my favorites,” he said, adding, “I get happy and that’s in my heart” when he sees Ferris.

When another group of girls were “awesome” to see Griffith Ferris leading them up, Melanie Amann said in her sophomore year that she thinks it is “super cool” that a dog is part of the UAHS family.

“It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen before,” she said. “It just makes me happy to be able to pet a dog because everyone loves dogs and it helps me get through the day.”

Those feelings were corroborated by Evan Meehan, a sophomore student with special needs, who said he thinks Ferris is “good” for school and likes how Ferris “makes me happy” at school.

“He’s making me a better day,” Meehan said.

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