Dogs in the classroom
The teacher’s aide in Gail Sturm’s first-grade class in Franklin County, Indiana, helps students with reading, provides a sympathetic and non-judgmental ear for students and, best of all, works for bones.
Martha, a 3-year-old white and tan Labrador retriever is part of the Indiana Canine Assistant Network and works with students at Bunker Hill Elementary in Franklin Township.
Sturm said Martha, who came to the school last November, was the first dog placed in an elementary school in Indiana. She’s now one of the network’s five dogs working with students at five Franklin Township schools.
Sturm, who is Martha’s primary caretaker, said the dogs are a calming presence for students and can help them learn and cope with problems.
“Children who have issues and may be a little reluctant to talk with a counselor, they’ll more freely talk with Martha,” Sturm said.
Many children read aloud to Martha, which Sturm said builds fluency.
Because of Martha’s calming effect, Sturm said, the dog often is able to help children with learning problems and disabilities.
Martha’s home base is Sturm’s classroom, but the counselor, the nurse’s clinic staff and other district schools often use her, too, according to an article in the Indianapolis Star.
“Sometimes if the kids are sick and they look like they need something (to lift their spirits), I take the dog up there,” said Chris Ritter, who works in the health clinic and has undergone special training to work with the dog. “She’s pretty smart,” Ritter said.