In a time when schools struggle to find innovative ways to connect with students, the challenge is often insurmountable. Financial and time restraints exasperate this problem leaving many students to walk the tight rope between good decision making and bad decision making.
Who would have known that it would be man's best friend to teach these student how good decision making can reap positive rewards. Modeled after the success of pet therapy programs, Kim Gilchrist, Don Fisher and Denise Fisher decided to go a step further. In December 2004, Ms. Gilchrist and Mr. & Mrs. Fisher collaborated with Nancy Dubin, principal of Laurel Nokomis School Sarasota County Florida and the Sarasota Sheriff's Department to develop a curriculum that allowed students to be matched and mentored one on one with registered pet therapy dogs. The program was written so children could be with a dog while working towards developing specific skills to enhance the decision making skills through self-esteem building, responsibility, respect, conflict resolution and role playing.
For one hour a week, 8-10 students are partnered with their K-9 companions and handlers to implement curriculum. Yearly, approximately 45 students are trained by 8-10 dogs and handlers totaling over 400 hours of volunteer time. In addition, guest K-9's, such as Sheriff work dogs, search and rescue dogs and seeing eye guide dog puppies visit and volunteer to strengthen the message of the lesson. A school counselor and Resource Officer are on hand at all times to address any issues that need professional intervention. This hands-on service exemplifies innovation and collaboration to provide students with the skills they need to successfully walk the rope of success. The true testimony to the success of this program is the waiting list that the school now has of requests of children to participate in the Laurel Nokomis School K-9 for Kids program. The number of students outweighs the number of pet therapy dogs available! But never fear, the K-9's have started the "twilight bark" telling their friends there are kids in need!