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When not working with the students, Hudson works in the high school office.

Hudson and His Ambassadors

by Patti Sutherland
reprinted from NewfTide 1Q 2009

Assistant Principal, Charles D. Owen High School Research shows that therapy dogs improve the atmosphere of the rooms they enter. This is definitely true for the classrooms of Charles D. Owen High School in Swannanoa, North Carolina, where three to five gentle giants enter classrooms every day with their student handlers. The Hudson Ambassador program was established in 2004 to help lower the high school dropout rate by keeping students actively engaged in school. In the beginning, Hudson, the first Newf, came to school to be with two students, who became his ambassadors; now he has his own high school club with nearly 50 trained ambassadors.

The five Newfs— Hudson, Oscar, Tess, Ellie, and Sydee—live with Benita Edds and Patti Sutherland, the assistant principal. Each day, one to five of the dogs board the “Newf Bus” for the 50-mile ride to the school. They are met by a group of ambassadors who greet the dogs and take them on their morning walks before beginning the day. Inside the school, other ambassadors are getting buckets of water and preparing to groom the dogs before beginning their daily schedules, which are posted outside of Patti’s office.

Newfoundland Therapy Dogs

After school hours, the Newfs “work” at programs, such as athletic events

Hudson Ambassadors is a unique therapy dog program, because the dogs come to school everyday. Each dog is scheduled with four different students each day. Teachers must give approval for the students to bring the dogs to class, but unless the classroom is over-populated, most ambassadors are given permission. In any given day, a dog may go to Spanish, chorus, horticulture, and math class; in a week, each dog may be in 20 different classrooms. This translates into a Newf being present in over 80 classrooms during each week. You can imagine the value to high school students of learning in a classroom with a “gentle giant” giving unconditional love to all who want to embrace him.

Newfoundland Therapy Dogs

The Newfs are a common sight in the hallways of Owen High School.

Teacher Jonelle Delapouyade enjoys having the dogs in class and observes, “There is a sense of well being and peace generated by their presence, and the work environment seems more pleasant for all the students.” Another teacher wishes that everyone could witness a withdrawn student eagerly taking Tess for a walk or a “tough kid” wiping Hudson’s chin.

Counselor Kristi Neal describes the ambassadors as “the middle-of-the-road students who often fall through the cracks. . . . For these students, being able to take one of the dogs to class or having the responsibility to care for them is a major incentive to make good grades, come to school every day, and stay out of trouble.”

Teacher Jackie Rhymer is amazed “how caring and nurturing students can become when they are given the opportunity to care for these amazing dogs.”

In addition to classroom situations, the dogs and ambassadors participate in anger management groups, individual counseling sessions, parent-teacher meetings, student council meetings, and various clubs. Following the regular school day, the dogs go to various athletic events. At the games, visiting teams and the outside community enjoy the Newfs, but each dog is always under the care and supervision of an ambassador. Games are often followed by picture-taking sessions, especially with the visiting cheerleaders, and the dogs enjoy having their pictures taken.

Newfoundland Therapy Dogs

After school hours, the Newfs attend events like the Christmas parade.

Hudson has his own club, which is officially recognized by the school. Potential members must write a paragraph or two stating why they want to become an ambassador and work with a dog. Although some students may not be doing well in their academic work or may have discipline issues when they apply for membership, all are welcomed. Students embrace the high expectations established in the club’s constitution and understand that to remain a Hudson Ambassador, they must pass their classes and avoid inappropriate behavior. The club is proud of its members receiving academic awards, being elected as class officers, and gaining in personal growth.

Newfoundland Therapy Dogs

The Hudson Ambassadors program is credited with keeping students in school and graduating.

As a service to the community, the Hudson Ambassadors Club raised $1,128.00 for the Relay for Life organization. Their goal this year is to double this amount. Ambassadors and the dogs also visit nursing homes and participate in the Black Mountain Christmas Parade, where the Newfs pull wagons carrying students who are not able to walk in the parade. Every day these Newfoundlands are credited with making a difference in students’ lives by giving unconditional love. Student Body Secretary, Olivia Tyson, sums it up by saying that the students “come to school because they feel like the dogs need them.” And based on the success of the program, it is clear that the students need the dogs.

 

 

reprinted from 1Q NewfTide 2009 pp 11- 21

 

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