Weakley Co. School Board
BY DAVID FISHER
Regular business could not be conducted at last Thursday’s Weakley County School Board meeting at Greenfield School due to the lack of a quorum. However, those present heard reports concerning new and innovative programs benefitting the students.
Principal Jeff Cupples gave details regarding the success of students involved in some of these activities and introduced Greenfield education assistant Lisa Hilliard, who breeds and raises therapy dogs.
Hilliard said her pet Goldendoodle, BB, helps students relax and causes them to have a more positive mental attitude. She said the children love to pet BB, and the gentle pooch enjoys the attention.
In order to utilize therapy dogs in Weakley County schools, the School Board amended it policies during its October 2022 meeting. This paved the way for the dogs to be introduced into the programs offered by the Weakley County School System. Therapy dogs were first utilized at Greenfield School during November with BB.
In order to be certified as a therapy dog, these animals must receive special training. “I’m taking her to a trainer in Jackson to complete an 18-week course,” Hilliard said. The dog must then pass a test giving her CDC certification as a therapy dog. In order to go into hospitals and nursing homes, BB must complete HAC training for therapy dogs.
Hilliard has been training therapy dogs for the past four months.
She said BB is the only therapy dog used at Greenfield School.
“The first week at Greenfield School, BB was involved in four therapy sessions,” Hilliard said. This included helping a child with bereavement issues and another with a panic attack.
BB helped on-site therapist Haley Betts with some of those issues.
“The kids love BB, and I think she’s been a big asset to our school,” Hilliard said.
“These dogs are phenomenal,” Principal Cupples said. He explained that they help students readjust following stressful situations, such as during Covid. According to Cupples, the dogs also have a positive influence on students’ attitudes during an average school day. “When students get a chance to pet BB, it turns their frowns upside down.”
A Goldendoodle is a dog crossbreed created by crossing a golden retriever and a poodle. First widely bred in the 1990s, the crossbreed is bred in three different size varieties corresponding to the size variety of the poodle used as a parent.
Goldendoodles often demonstrate Golden Retrievers’ intuitive and a people-oriented nature, while benefiting from poodles’ highly intelligent persona and hypoallergenic, allergy-friendly, non-shedding coat.
Therapy dogs are trained to provide affection, comfort and support to people, often in settings such as schools, hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, libraries, hospices, or disaster areas. They are trained to interact with all kinds of people, not just their handlers.
As a point of clarification, it should be noted that therapy dogs are not service dogs. Service dogs are trained to help those with disabilities perform specific tasks.
Contrary to popular belief, therapy dogs are not a recent phenomenon. These loveable pets have been utilized as a therapeutic resource by many medical professionals over the past few centuries. In the late 1800s, Florence Nightingale observed that small pets helped reduce anxiety and improve recovery in children and adults living in psychiatric institutions.
According to Brian Hare, director of Duke University Canine Cognition Center, the human-canine bond goes back thousands of years. He states that dogs have been drawn to people since humans began to live in settlements; and dogs are the only species that does not show fear of strangers.
Although a dog does not think according to language, people often intuit that dogs are compassionate and communicative. This builds a feeling of intimacy, leading the person to feel safe and understood. This can benefit the grieving human, who may be apprehensive about talking with another person for the fear of being hurt or lied to. Pets are an addition to therapy because they allow people to feel safe and accepted.
Although the Board could not vote on business items, because it lacked a quorum, Chairman Steve Vantrease used his executive authority to approve a couple of student field trips.
One of the trips involves allowing Westview High School’s boys and girls basketball teams to travel to Hilton Head, South Carolina to play in a tournament Dec. 17-21.
The other trip authorizes Drama Club students from Westview High School and Gleason School to attend the Thespian Conference at Middle Tennessee State University Jan. 13-15, 2023.
Field trips are normally approved by the School Board, but they are not required to have Board approval.
In announcements, Chairman Vantrease offered condolences to Westview High School teacher Jennifer Cupples over the loss of her grandmother.
The next School Board meeting is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, January 5, at the Weakley County Personal Development Center.