Students’ best friendNew London therapy dog continues positive work with elementary students
BY BRYCE KELLY
Mt. Pleasant News
NEW LONDON —Usually, being called the teacher’s pet is met with disdain, but in Nicky’s case, it’s actually true.
The four-legged counterpart of Clark Elementary’s fourth-grade class, Nicky is currently reporting for his second school year in the classroom of Mrs. Jackie McCord. A certified therapy dog and the personal pet of McCord’s, Nicky reports to class every day to offer his unique set of skills to the students of Clark Elementary, in New London.
“He has been a real gift to this school, and quite honestly, a gift to me,” says McCord. “Nicky is an important part of this school and he really does hold a special place in the kids’ hearts.”
Different from a certified emotional companion animal or a certified service dog, both of which require a dog to serve particular needs of one specific person, Nicky’s training prepared him to work primarily with and amongst groups of children in school settings. He is trained to detect emotional anxiety, nervousness and restlessness in children, and respond to help calm and refocus a child, while still assuring the child’s safety.
To achieve his certification, Nicky was sent to a specialized trainer in Nebraska to receive several months of intensive teaching. In fact, McCord says it was through the generosity of many local donors that she was able to afford Nicky in the first place, as well as his specialized training. She also gives credit to the school board and district administrators for their continued support of Nicky’s contributions to the school.
Despite being only about a year and a half old, McCord says Nicky shows up to school day after day, ready to work and be a support for her classroom.
“Since we’ve had Nicky in the class, one of the biggest benefits I’ve seen is he has brought a sense of unity to the class and a sense of responsibility to the kids,” she says, adding that the students are assigned tasks throughout the day to care for him. “We’ve also used Nicky countless times to calm students down in a variety of situations. Often, when other staff members haven’t been able to connect with a student in an emotional situation, Nicky can almost immediately, which goes back to his training.”
Outside of McCord’s classroom, Nicky goes to recess and school assemblies with the children, where he can work with other elementary students. McCord says she’s also taken him to the district’s junior high and high school on occasion when his presence could be of service to a student.
“Eventually, my goal is to get Nicky out of the fourth-grade classrooms more because I think we’ve recognized within our district his value and his skill set,” said McCord. “And, as Nicky himself gets older and more mature, there may be additional opportunities for him within the district, but that’s a ways down the line, I think.”
For now, Nicky is sticking primarily with fourth-grade, and the students say they couldn’t be more pleased to have him.
“He makes me feel safe,” said one fourth-grade girl in McCord’s class who said before Nicky, she had never had a dog of her own before. “Sometimes, when I’m sad, Nicky will come and lay his head on my lap or sit next to me by my desk. That makes me feel better…I think Nicky is my friend.”
For other students, Nicky is simply a friendly face that is always up for some fun and games. According to McCord, many of her students from last year will often give Nicky a scratch behind the ears in passing down the hallway or play with him at recess, insisting they miss not having Nicky with them all day.
“Nicky is really funny. He loves to play outside with us and he’ll let you pet him anytime you want,” said a Clark Elementary boy, who is now in fifth-grade. “I wish our class had a dog like Nicky.”
Overall, McCord says she wasn’t surprised by how quickly students connected with Nicky, nor is she surprised by how many of her colleagues at New London have asked for Nicky to help with a student now and then. For Nicky, McCord says he’s simply doing what he loves.
“I wanted to get a dog like Nicky because as a teacher, I felt it would be a useful tool in the classroom,” she says. “Since we started bringing him here, I have come to realize just how much of an asset he is. He’s a one-of-a-kind member of our team here at Clark.”