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Students learning in new way with help of special assistants

Four-legged assistants helping students learn
Posted at 7:55 AM, May 09, 2018

When it comes to the classroom, it's not unusual for teachers to have assistants. But those helpers aren't always people. At one school, students are learning in a completely new way.

We all know it can be fun to play with a dog. But by helping Buster get through an obstacle course, Buster's also helping elementary school student Mason Gentry in ways he hadn't planned.

"Definitely with focus," Gentry said. "Because sometimes I just have a hard time focusing."

But how?

"Because I have to help focus on what Buster is doing in order to do what I need to do with him," Gentry said.

Buster is teaching schoolmates Ashton Huffman and Grant Meurer, something else.

"Patience," Huffman said.

And it goes beyond getting Buster through the course.

"It teaches us that if you were to ask for something you can't just go now now I want it now," Meurer said.

Once a week dogs like Buster and Mojo, come to Van Arsdale Elementary School in Colorado to work with students.

They lead them through courses they've planned out using commands, which helps them develop their communication and confidence.

"They will get more confident each week," said Vivan Mulhern, coordinator at HABIC Denver. "They will say it louder and then you just see their skills improving and wanting to learn more so then they can connect science together and they can do things like that."

Teacher Denise Gillette started the program after seeing how it impacted a student with autism.

"Were you surprised after that initial student had such a positive reaction from working with the dog?" Kumasi Aaron, a national reporter with The E.W. Scripps Co., asked.

"Yeah, I think I was surprised," Gillette said. "It was just so beneficial, just such growth."

Now more students are seeing that growth, learning a variety of skills that can be challenging to teach, like patience, confidence and focus.

"They can work on something through the dog that you wouldn't really want to address directly with them," Gillette said. "Like I think if you put the spotlight on them and say you need to have impulse control then you get a resistance but when it's over we need to teach the dog this and then they see, 'Oh that's a valuable thing.'"

Gillette writes personalized books to complement her student's work with the dogs, weaving in the lessons each one is trying to learn.

"Nobody wants to be told you need this you need that," Gillette said. "But when you're helping the dog get it's like, 'Oh okay now you're the helper and you're not always the student who has a problem.'"

So while Coen Stevenson has taught Mojo some pretty cool tricks, Mojo's made it easier for him to learn.

"It makes me feel better to like do more stuff in class and like work better," Stevenson said.

A change in curriculum, adding man's best friend, and much more.