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NCSD launches Novi4All Therapy Dog program
Published: 2/3/2021
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Novi Community School District is proud to announce the first cohort of the Novi4All Therapy Dog Program. The goal is to have a therapy dog at every school in the near future. Five NCSD staff members and their canines are part of the first cohort. The staff and canines will begin training soon with Michigan Dog Training in Plymouth.

“Novi4All supports all abilities and our goal is to support children’s emotional well-being and learning through a district-wide therapy dog program,” said Shailee Patel, Director of Special Education Programs and Services for NCSD.

The five staff members who are participating in the first cohort for therapy dog training are:
  • Rebecca Middleton, Special Education Teacher at Novi Middle School
  • Kailee Chichila, School Psychologist at Deerfield Elementary and Village Oaks Elementary
  • Julie Holewinski, Special Education Teacher at Novi Woods Elementary
  • Ashley Weinert, School Psychologist at Novi High School
  • Karen Wilkinson, School Social Worker at Parkview Elementary
Rebecca Middleton explained why therapy dogs are important, how students will benefit and why she is excited to join the first cohort.

Why are therapy dogs important?

Research has shown that having access to a therapy dog has great benefits for all students, including but not limited to: a reduction in anxiety, improved reading and language skills, reduction in negative classroom behaviors, increased academic performance, and more. Research also states despite having one of the greatest needs for mental health services, children and families in low-income households are the least likely to have access to quality mental health services.

When you consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, if basic physiological and safety needs are not being met, how can we expect students to achieve higher levels of cognitive thinking? Supporting students’ growth in the area of mental health will only improve their sense of security, well-being, and naturally to follow, their academics. Additionally, providing therapy dog services within the entire school will also benefit all students by enriching their educational experiences within the classroom and with their peers."

How will students benefit?

“Having a therapy dog in school will be a great support for all students within the building, but especially those students who need it the most (children with lack of access to quality mental health services, those with mental health or social-emotional needs, behaviors, learning deficits, etc.). With devastating impacts of COVID-19 on students, families, and our community, it is our hope with this grant to support all students during the global pandemic.

Once the program is complete, NCSD staff will be bringing their trained therapy dog into school buildings to begin service work. NCSD staff will be volunteering their time to collaborate with staff in order to spread the benefits of a therapy dog as wide as possible among buildings. Additionally, counselors, ancillary staff, and admin would have access to the building therapy dog in case of a student in need of its services.

The desired outcomes of this project are a sense of community, belonging, love, enrichment, and support.”

Why are you excited for this program?

In February 2020, we brought home our sweet Labrador retriever, Bosa. Two weeks later, the world shut down. Bosa has been an incredible companion and light in my life during this pandemic. Like many others, mental health has been difficult during these times. I am diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and suffer from panic attacks. Bosa is my emotional support animal and brings me an overwhelming sense of joy, security, and hope when times are difficult. It is because of him that I was inspired to create a grant for him to become a therapy dog.

With the assistance of NEF and my director, Shailee Patel, we were able to turn my single grant application into a therapy dog program for our entire school district. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to train my dog for therapy services, as well as to be able to organize two cohorts of staff dogs to be the light for the children in our district. The pandemic has had significant impacts on mental health of those young and old. It is truly an honor to be able to offer my dog to help others and bring them his joy as well. We are excited and ready to kick off the Novi4All Therapy Dog Program with our first cohort of dogs: Bosa, Daisy, Lacey, Otis, and Ruthie!"