Frazier Elementary adds tail-wagging, furry team member
There’s a new staff member at Frazier Elementary. However, you won’t find him teaching a class, overseeing recess or working in the front office. Midas, a two-and-a-half year-old Labrador is a ‘facility dog,’ one cross-trained to serve and also provide therapy. It’s a first for the district but so far students and staff love him.
Dena Schimming, principal of Frazier, said she started working to get a facility dog about a year ago, but first got the idea when she was herself a teacher.
“A special education teacher on my campus had a classroom dog and I saw the impact it had on her students,” Schimming said.
Schimming said she also saw the benefits of a therapy dog while volunteering at the Ronald McDonald house. Then, she dug in deeper. While conducting some research she came across studies on children who had struggled to read had better scores and comprehension while reading to a dog. It was then that Schimming got to work with Special Education Director Lucretia Gartrell.
“We drafted together a plan of what this would look like, and talked through a lot of things, met with a lawyer,” Schimming said. “Midas has a 26 page contract. It was an extremely lengthy process, and finding the right dog was a process as well. It’s something that we’re learning as we go, tweaking as we go, it’s really an uncharted territory to have a dog full-time the way that we do.”
Having Midas around has already paid off in the benefit to both students and staff. Schimming has found that Midas is especially careful around special education students, though he wasn’t specifically trained to act that way.
“They very first time we took him in there, he walked in, laid down all the way and just let the kids pet and love all over him,” Schimming said.
Midas also has a calming affect on children who suffer from anxiety or outbursts. Schimming recounted one time where Midas comforted a child who had previously been scared of dogs. The child was experiencing an especially bad anxiety attack and Midas seemed to know exactly what to do.
“He just walked to that student and he just leaned on his legs like, “I’m here if you need me,” and the student finally stopped screaming and laid his head on his back. So Midas can pick up on ‘that’s what he needs at this moment.’”
Midas has also improved the confidence of students struggling to learn to read. One student, Schimming said, hated to read out loud, but with Midas had no problem.
“We have a student who hates to read, and they would not read at all,” Schimming said. “One day the teacher said ‘if I were to go get Midas, would you read?’ And he said yes, so she came and got Midas, and sat him down beside him, and he read out loud and it’s so sweet because there was another little boy who stood behind him watching him, correcting him, coaching him on his reading.”
Midas picks up on body language quickly as well, and sometimes when students have been too excited to see the pup, Schimming has to remind students that Midas is here to work - not to play. Students were excited when they learned a dog was going to be at school every day. During Frazier’s recent open house, Schimming had blocked out 30 minutes to allow parents and teachers to meet Midas. However, she needed an escort just to get back to her office.
“The line to meet him just would not go down,” Schimming said. “He has a celebrity status now.”
Midas is prepared for stressful situations. He’s been through rigorous and extensive training. You would never know that Midas started his life in the Cleburne pound and had to be treated for heart worms twice. Schimming said this makes a great character story for students.
“He was discarded, he was at the shelter and he wasn’t the best dog,” Schimming said. “But his rescuer and trainer saw something in him and knew he’d be perfect for this.”
Once identified as an extremely intelligent dog who was willing and eager to please, Midas went to doggie boot camp and learned the ins and outs of being a therapy dog. Midas began his training at Frazier last August, where he came for hour increments to train and get to know his way around the school. Schimming formally adopted him in February.
A typical day for Midas begins early in the morning. He and Schimming get to school at about 6:30 a.m. Midas is not an early riser, Schimming said, and prefers to eat his breakfast once he gets to school.
“He’s not really awake until 8,” she said.
Once students are in class, Midas will make his rounds in the school. He’s a busy boy and has his own calendar for teachers to schedule him in their classrooms. He also has scheduled bathroom and play breaks. During the middle part of the day, Midas has a nap. Then it’s back to work.
“If somebody is in any type of meeting, they want him,” Schimming said. “Teachers will say, ‘I don’t have a class, I have a conference and I just need some Midas time,’ and I’ll see pictures on Facebook and stuff.”
Once home and his work vest comes off, Midas acts like any other dog. Schimming and her family live on two acres where Midas has plenty of room to run around with his other furry brothers and sisters. Schimming said one of his favorite things to do is chase her while she drives an all terrain vehicle around the property.
Schimming hopes that having Midas on campus will continue to inspire students to practice their reading skills and knows that he will keep acting as a source of inspiration for them.
“He proves that if you don’t give up and face your obstacles head-on, you can accomplish anything,” Schimming said.