September 26, by Nathaly Pesantez
Children at three neighborhood schools will have their days made brighter by “comfort dogs” as part of an expanding Department of Education program for social and emotional wellness.
The program, launched last year in nearly 10 schools around the city, brings rescue dogs into classrooms to interact with students and staff, and aid in improving the school climate and social emotional learning.
The Riverview School, which serves special needs students at 1-50 51st Avenue in Hunters Point, and I.S. 204 at 36-41 28th Street, are the two Long Island City based schools participating in the the “Comfort Dog” program for the 2017 and 2018 school year. The third, P.S.76 at 36-36 10th Street in Astoria, is also part of the program. The three schools make up the 30 additional schools targeted in the program’s expansion.
“The Comfort Dog program brings a smile to students and staff on a challenging day, helps to de-escalate issues and can even provide bereavement support,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña in a statement. “We know students need academic and social-emotional supports to succeed in the classroom and beyond, and comfort dogs are helping nearly 40 schools strengthen their culture and build stronger relationships.”
The DOE says the rescue dogs chosen for the program are evaluated by the North Shore Animal League America. A staff member at each school adopts a dog, and a learning program, the Mutt-i-Gree curriculum, which focuses on shelter pets and emotional learning is provided for free. Schools can choose to apply to the program via the DOE’s Office of Counseling Support.
“A comfort dog is a counseling support,” said Jaye Murray, executive director of the Office of Counseling Support Programs in a statement. “They possess the two most important qualities of an effective social worker or counselor–unconditional acceptance and warmth.”
Staff at P.S.76 in Astoria took to Twitter to share photos of “Juno”, the school’s comfort dog, in action. The school also created a Twitter account for Juno, which Fred Acquavita, the school’s assistant principal, encouraged users to follow.