TROY, N.Y. — As Public School 2 begins the new school year, there’s a member of the school family that everyone is happy to see: Dora the therapy dog.
Dora is a black and tan hound owned by School 2 Principal Amanda Klopott, who made the decision to get her specifically for the school’s benefit.
“I talked it over with my family, we discussed the idea of getting a dog that would be for the school but would live with us,” Klopott explained. “And everyone liked the idea.”
Dora made her first appearance at School 2 last year when she was three months old. Since then, the School 2 staff and students, called scholars, have watched her grow. Klopott put Dora through two rounds of training, one for socialization skills and one specifically for therapy dogs, and now she is ready to help out at school every day.
“Having a therapy dog for the school is an out-of-the-box idea,” Klopott said. “Many schools don’t have a full-time dog.”
However, School 2 is itself an out-of-the-box institution. The school focuses on the social-emotional well-being of its scholars above all else, with other goals such as academic achievement falling into place as an outcome of those needs being fully met. Klopott explained that when students are fed, cared for, and happy to be at school, it’s easier for them to learn. She sees her job as principal not as one of discipline and behavior management, but of ensuring that all School 2 scholars feel safe and supported while they are on campus.
“We’re a school where the principal’s focus is on social-emotional relationships with the students, and it flips that idea of a principal’s role on its side,” Klopott commented.
So, an out-of-the-box therapy dog is a perfect fit for an out-of-the-box school.
Dora supports School 2’s scholars in many ways. By simply being there, she gives the scholars something to look forward to at school. This increases motivation to be at school, on time, every day, creating what Klopott calls positive attendance – being at school more often than being absent and wanting to be there.
“Last year, between Dora and all the attendance incentives we use, students were talking about positive attendance all year,” Klopott recalled.
Another way Dora provides support is through her daily meet and greets and classroom visits. Scholars practice their literacy skills by reading to Dora and can go to her for hugs and pets when they’re feeling upset or stressed. They can also come visit her when she’s hanging out in Klopott’s office, where she has her own space with a bed, water bowl, and food.
“Some classrooms even have their own beds and toys for Dora,” Klopott commented. “Everyone has a different relationship with her. Some students will earn time with her, which incentivizes them to come to school and creates very positive interactions and experiences.”
Scholars who earn time with Dora can play with her, take her for walks, or just enjoy some quiet time with her. Last year, the scholars even got to help with Dora’s training.
Da’Marcus Smith and Chance Mason, both nine years old, are two scholars who enjoy spending time with Dora. They visit her in Klopott’s office in the mornings before school starts, playing with her and giving her treats.
“I like having fun with her and teaching her stuff,” Smith said. “We can bring toys from home for her, so I brought a little green tennis ball for her.”
“I like that we get to play with her,” Mason added. “I remember last year we took her for walks.”
Some scholars have even come to school initially afraid of dogs, but after being around Dora were able to overcome that fear.
And it’s not just the scholars who benefit from having Dora around.
“She’s great with the staff too,” Klopott added. “They can come in to snuggle with her if they need a break. She’s absolutely part of our team. We say she’s a member of the School 2 family.”
Dora herself gets a lot of benefit from working in the school too, sometimes learning as much as the scholars do.
“Being at school is challenging for her learning and development because she has to be alert and paying attention all the time,” Klopott explained. “She’s a very happy dog here. She can be lazy at home, but all I have to say in the morning is ‘do you want to go to school?’ and she pops right up. She’s been wonderful for the whole school. She has changed lives.”