FRANKLIN, Ind – Franklin Community Schools students will soon have access to therapy dogs and more social workers as the district continues efforts to promote mental health and safety.
The 7-month old Labradoodle pups, named Hiro and Millie, are nearly done with training at Westfield-based Ultimate Canine. The dogs are trained to sense high levels of stress in humans and can have a calming effect, especially among children.
“We’re extremely excited that the dogs are coming to the school,” said the district’s new Mental Health Director, Kimberly Spurling. “From decreasing anxiety, to increasing just joy in the school, helping reduce stress.”
Training for the therapy dogs includes getting them accustomed to noisy environments, which they’re likely to encounter on a daily basis in elementary schools. Hiro and Millie were choses based on their successful interaction with excited children.
Spurling points out the dogs will bring a sense of calm and overall joy to school hallways, but will also be available for students coping with stress or trauma.
“Just being in the presence of the dog, just petting the dog, laying down next to the dog, it’s just going to reduce that stress and anxiety,” Spurling.
“It doesn’t matter if you come from a very well-off family, or an impoverished family,” said Franklin Community Schools Superintendent, David Clendening. “The dog doesn’t care. It’s going to love you unconditionally.”
Once training is complete, Hiro and Millie are expected to start working in the schools in mid-April. The pups will spend most of their time at Northwood and Webb Elementary Schools, but will also make visits to all schools in the district.
The $3900 cost of the dogs is being covered by funding from Franklin Community Schools recently-passed school safety referendum. In May, voters approved a property tax increase to raise an extra $3.5 million per year for the next eight years. Money raised by the measure is being used to increase teacher pay and promote mental health and safety improvements.
Since the referendum passed, starting teacher salaries have been increased, Spurling was hired as the district’s new Mental Health Director, a subcommittee has been formed to study the stresses on today’s students.
FCS is also hiring four new social workers who will focus on talking to students who are coping with mental and emotional issues. The Social Emotional Learning Interventionists will be available for students who need help with a variety of issues, like problems at school, problems at home, anxiety over academics or social life.
“When students are going to come down to the office and they need to talk about how they’re feeling, if their anxiety is increased, if they’re struggling with depression,” Spurling said.
Hiring the social workers will help school guidance counselors to focus more on student academics.
“We’re continuing to make strides to make this a continued safer place to be,” Clendening said. “We are making a difference in the lives of our kids by the small steps that we’re doing.”