The newest "teacher" at Exeter Township Junior High is five years old, named after a fashion designer icon, walks on four legs and needs regular trips to the grooming salon. We're pleased to introduce you to Coco Chanel, an Italian truffle dog who, despite only being able to wag her tail and "woof," is teaching special needs students at the Junior High about how to better socialize with each other as they bond over their common love of animals. Having seen the power of therapy dogs in helping students at previous schools where he worked, Principal Alex Brown was excited to invite Coco and her handler, Mrs. Carol Goodhart, into the Junior High on a regular basis earlier this year soon after Coco received her therapy dog certification from the Alliance for Therapy Dogs. "From day one, she's been really great for our kids, but also our staff. Students and teachers see Coco in the hallways and they immediately light up."
Coco was adopted by retired educators Carol and her husband, James, soon after Coco retired from the show dog circuit. Seeing how well behaved and socialized she was from her previous experience as a show dog, Carol decided to have her officially trained as a therapy dog in the hopes that she could bring her into schools to help students with emotional or social needs. "As an elementary principal, I hired a guidance counselor who had a therapy dog and I just fell in love with the whole concept. At the time, I had all of the emotional support students in my building, so it was a godsend to our students to have his dog in our school," she said. Mr. Brown agreed. "For kids who may not necessarily be very social, we're seeing them really light up and become social when Coco enters the classroom."
Mrs. Alyssa Raab, who teaches Life Skills, said that her students look forward to Coco's weekly visit, which lasts approximately half an hour in her class and half an hour in Mrs. Robyn Shaffer's autistic support class. She said that Coco and Carol's visits have directly impacted her students by teaching them how to better emotionally regulate while also increasing their social skills. "Most of us have pets and love animals, so having Coco come in is a catalyst for us to have more conversations, and has been so great for our classroom," she said. In Mrs. Shaffer's classroom, students presented Carol and Coco with cards expressing their happiness with having them visit each week. On the outside of seventh grader Mya's card, she drew a blue face with a frown that she labeled, "Before Coco's visit." On the inside, she drew a happy and bright face with a smile that she labeled, "After Coco's visit," and then hugged Coco, who clearly relished in all of the attention and pets she was getting from students and staff.
Although Coco and Carol are only visiting two classrooms a week, Mr. Brown said that he hopes that he can expand Coco's visits to other classrooms that may benefit from her calming and happy presence in the near future. "I mean, who doesn't love seeing and petting a great puppy?" he asks.