Dynamic Duo: Therapy dogs at East Rockingham high school helping students

Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 10:18 AM EDT
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ELKTON, Va. (WHSV) - Research shows that interactions with therapy dogs can have many benefits for children and adults, including teaching a sense of responsibility and stimulating socialization.

At East Rockingham High School, the ‘dynamic duo’ of 5-year-old Labrador retriever Mandy, and 4-year-old Welsh Corgi Mae are helping students in history teacher Diana Kemper’s classroom.

“Some students like one more than the other and connect more with one than the other but they seem to enjoy them both a lot,” Kemper said.

The two dogs are part of a therapy program throughout Rockingham County Public Schools. During their respective work days they are in Kemper’s classroom but also work with students in the library and counseling offices.

“School becomes less institutional and feels more like home. I smile more, they smile more. And when there is just a more relaxed environment in the classroom I feel like students can connect with each other and with me more, and it leads to better learning outcomes,” Kemper said.

Mary Stephenson, a junior at East Rockingham is in her second year of class with Mandy.

“If you’re having like a bad day she definitely knows. Because she’ll come up she’ll lay on your feet and just all around I’ve known her for two years now, and she’s always been just a really good dog,” Stephenson said.

Another student, Dabriel Skievaski is in his first year at ERHS, and says it’s always a joy to be greeted by a wagging tail.

“Some people might just be drained or tired or maybe just not having a good morning, but I think she just brightens up the mood of the day and she’s just fun for everybody in general,” Skievaski said.

Whether it’s Mandy or Mae, Kemper said she is grateful to provide comfort for students in any way they can.

“I have students who will come in during break sometimes and just walk straight over sit next to Mandy, they don’t say a word to me. They pet her enjoy sitting with her for a few moments, walk out and then look back and smile. So I might not know exactly what’s going on with a student that day but if she helps alleviate some anxiety that’s what she’s here for,” Kemper said.

The duo will be at ERHS throughout the year on a rotating basis several times a week, and Kemper adds that she is excited to see the new ways Mandy and Mae can help students.