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C.C.’s super powers: to calm, listen & bring on smiles

Comfort dog's impact will be measured

The newest employee at Grandville’s South Elementary has four paws, a tail and goes by the name “C.C.” The 2-year-old golden retriever lab mix started work as a comfort dog this month.

Courtesy of South Elementary – Fifth graders Natalee Burt, left, and Natalie Breuker take the first shift as dog walkers

Fifth grader Brooke Holleman said she feels right at home when she spots C.C. in the halls.

“She walks around the school, and is so comfortable with everyone petting her and seeing her,” said Brooke, who has her own dog at home.

Classmate Payton Devault agrees.

“When you’re sad she makes you happy, just like that,” Payton said. “We talk about her all the time in class and with our friends.”

While on duty at South Elementary, C.C. greets students and staff in the morning, aids in classroom life skills, attends special events and listens to students read.

Principal Darla England said the school decided to look into comfort dogs “to really make sure that we were meeting the social and emotional needs of all our students in the building.”

Principal Darla England asks for permission for C.C. to visit a classroom

Four-Legged Staff Member 

Unlike a traditional therapy dog, C.C. is for all students and staff, while a therapy dog is traditionally used to fulfill FTEs (full-time equivalents) for students with support and service needs.

Outside of classroom visits, C.C. also has an important job when it comes to discipline and emotional support, England said.

“When students even see C.C., they immediately start to de-escalate. She provides an opportunity for students to calm themselves in a healthy way, whether it’s support for students who are having a bad day or providing students who are less assertive a chance to come out of their shell.

“She’s a member of this staff, she really is.”

C.C. visits a classroom during the school day

Multi-tiered Support

As part of the school’s focus on emotional needs, the building has a sensory nook that will be used in partnership with C.C.’s arrival. The school’s sensory nook is a place where students can take a break when they need to calm down with books on emotions, stress-relieving toys and soft lighting. Since the nook’s implementation last year, England has been collecting data on its success rate.

“We’ve had amazing results with the nook,” England said. “Now that we have C.C., the success rates of the nook combined with her are amazing.”

C.C. has several local sponsors that fund her care

England will also be tracking the impact C.C.’s presence has on attendance rates and participation, she said.

C.C. also is becoming the focus of several lesson plans.

“We are using C.C. for a look at genetics, as she is a lab and retriever mix,” England said. “We are also writing and reading about dog breeds… the kiddos are so excited.”

The school also plans to host a birthday party for C.C., holiday pictures with C.C. and will use time with her as a reward system.

“I love how invested all the students are in C.C.,” England said. “She is an invaluable part of our school.”

Brooke Holleman in front of the banner the fifth grade students made for C.C.

To be considerate of students with dog allergies, there are areas in the building where C.C. is not allowed, including classrooms identified as having students who could be at risk.

When C.C. is not at school, she lives with first grade teacher Kim Hyde and her family, experienced dog owners who have another dog that will help with socialization.

The cost to purchase C.C., as well as start-up costs, was covered entirely by fundraisers and local sponsors. Calder Capital, LLC is C.C.’s corporate sponsor, and covers her medical costs.

“We’ve had such strong community support for C.C.,” England said. “We’re so grateful.”

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Hannah Lentz
Hannah Lentz
A 2017 graduate of Grand Valley State University and a lifelong teacher’s kid, Hannah Lentz has worked as a journalist in and outside the Grand Rapids area for more than five years. After serving as editor-in-chief at the GVSU student newspaper, Hannah interned at the Leelanau Enterprise where she learned a lot about community journalism. In addition to her work for School News Network, Hannah has worked as a freelance blogger in the furniture industry, focusing on design trends, and as a social media manager for World Medical Relief in Detroit.

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