When students at Hammonton Middle School in South Jersey returned to in-person learning after a couple of remote days in February of 2021, they were greeted by their new classmate – Wally.
Wally is a therapy dog, introduced to his school by principal Michael Nolan, a double WilmU alum (MEd and EdD), to relieve student anxiety and promote better education.
For years, therapy dogs have been used in healthcare settings for their positive emotional and social impact on the people around them, but their use in schools has recently been expanding.
After seeing a news story about a therapy dog in a nearby school, Nolan helped put together a grant application, procedures, and a policy to bring a therapy dog into his district.
Through a donation from the Hammonton Education Foundation, the district was able to fund Wally’s purchase and training.
“He came into my second class of the day, and you could just see their faces just lit up,” seventh-grade math teacher Danielle Law told the Press of Atlantic City. “It was really cool because I just feel like with this year our classes are small, everyone is 6 feet apart, and the masks … the energy changed in the room.”
Wally visits the school often to provide emotional support to students and staff, but when he’s not in the classroom, he lives with Nolan, who covers his expenses.
“We’re always looking for different ways and different angles to reach kids,” Nolan told the Press of Atlantic City. “When we started this, we didn’t think we were heading into a global pandemic. But, it’s a good thing we did get him when we did because kids now are more secluded than they’ve ever been.”
Read more about Wally’s impact on the students he serves here.
See Wally’s first day of school with students captured on video here.
Photo: the Hammonton Education Foundation Facebook page