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Student Sales Make Therapy Dogs "Paw"sible

December 19, 2019 -- Among the many lessons being taught in Employment Readiness at Osbourn High School (OHS), one major takeaway is that hard work pays off. Throughout the year, these students make items in the classroom that they later sell. Most recently, they created holiday ornaments, mugs and other gifts to sell to their peers and school staff. The money raised goes into a student activity fund that the students have used to acquire sessions with a therapy dog handler and her two dogs.

Animal-Assisted Instruction is offered to all the students in intellectual disabilities, intellectual disabilities severe, and autism classes at OHS, including those in the Employment Readiness program. During these sessions, the dogs help students learn and engage through interactive activities.

Once a month, Kris Campesi of Summit Therapy Animal Services and her two certified therapy dogs visit the students for two hours (divided into 20-minute sessions). During that time, Campsei, and her dogs Nicodemus (“Nic”) and Micah, work with the students on communication and social skills through various games and activities.

“The biggest benefit is the communication piece that I see,” said teacher Megan Barbour. “Students who are shy or have limited communication work very hard to use their communication devices to give the dogs commands and also to ask for turns.”

Some games require the students to give the dogs commands such as “eat” when they want to let the dogs have a treat, allowing the students to practice their communication. Other games give students the ability to practice their listening skills, making eye contact, patterns, numbers, colors and letters. While other students pet or walk the dogs, the other students work on their patience and taking turns.

“Another huge benefit is they aide in physical therapy,” Barbour added. “I have seen so many students with high tone, relax their arm and leg muscles when laying with the dog or having the dog across their lap. We see purposeful movement when the dogs are involved that is not noted otherwise.”

Campsei, who has been working with therapy dogs for nearly 20 years, was a special education teacher before retiring in 2010, to work with students in a different capacity. While becoming a certified therapy dog requires at least a year of training and a passing grade on a therapy dog test, Campsei said she is continuously working on new skills with her dogs. As the dogs improve their skillsets, she is able to adapt and customize the programs for clientele further.

In December, Campsei visited Osbourn with only Nic, who is her sixth therapy dog and the best one she’s had, she noted. Each dog has their special gifts, and Nic is great at being both engaging and listening, Campsei said. Meanwhile, Micah is patient and enjoys interacting with the clients. Students enjoy both the dogs and wrote holiday cards to Campsei expressing their appreciation complete with drawings of the dogs.

Therapy dogs visit OHS

View a slideshow of Nic's visit to OHS