Middle School West Welcomes A New Four-Legged Friend

On January 8th, the Perkiomen Valley Board of School Directors approved the integration of a facility dog at Middle School West. This initiative represents a fulfillment of the district’s commitment to enriching both the educational and emotional well-being of its students. 

This idea was created by senior Ava Bellino, who inspired the idea of having a therapy dog in school and saw that it would be helpful to learners. Bellino shared her proposal with Mrs. Zielinski, a counselor at Middle School West, and together, they worked hand in hand to guide the proposal to approval. They advocated for this innovation by collecting evidence and presenting it before the school board to showcase how a therapy dog could positively impact the school community.

“Ava’s passion for helping her peers was the spark we needed. We did our homework, visiting schools with successful therapy dog programs and gathering all the necessary information to present a compelling case to the school board,” Zielinski said, reflecting on the effort to bring this idea to the school board.

The proposal found strong support from the school’s administration, particularly from Mr. Creeden, the principal of Middle School West. He recognized the multiple benefits a therapy dog could bring to the school environment.

“There is a growing need for social-emotional support at the middle level. A therapy dog is an additional support that can satisfy these social-emotional needs and refocus students so they can be academically successful,” Creeden said. 

Bellino expressed her aspirations for the program and its potential to transform the school’s atmosphere. Her initiative reflects a broader understanding of the challenges students face and the innovative solutions required to address them.

“I wanted to find a way to make school a better place for everyone. I’m hoping that being greeted by a dog in the morning will spark some excitement in students to come to school, and I hope that it will serve as a useful tool for emotional support,” Bellino said.

In preparation for the facility dog’s arrival, significant efforts are being made to ready the faculty, staff and students for this new addition. Zielinski is leading these efforts, with the dog’s selection and training meticulously guided by Wendy Jordan of DogSense, guaranteeing the chosen dog is perfectly suited for the role. The dog will reside with a designated staff member, ensuring its well-being and integration into the school community are seamless and effective.

“Wendy’s expertise has been invaluable in preparing us for this exciting addition. She’s guiding us every step of the way to ensure our facility dog will become a beloved member of our school community,” Zielinski explained.

The project has received notable praise for its comprehensive planning and the positive implications it holds for enhancing student and staff welfare. School board member Don Fountain, an advocate for the initiative, reiterated the benefits of welcoming a facility dog into the school environment.

“The presence of a facility dog in a building can provide an excitement, as well as a calming impact. The positive aspects of the dog’s presence impact every student, and even every staff member that may have an opportunity to work with them,” Fountain said. 

As Perkiomen Valley looks forward to welcoming a facility dog in the fall of 2024, this initiative acts as a potential model for expanding similar programs throughout the district. With widespread support, the success at Middle School West is expected to pave the way for an educational environment where student well-being and learning go hand in hand, marking a hopeful step towards a more inclusive approach across the district.

“We’re not just bringing a dog into the school; we’re introducing a new form of support and companionship for our students,” Zielinski said.