Oct. 18, 2012. What could be better than kids with a dog? How about kids and a dog working to help veterans with disabilities? That’s what Kelly Beckley’s third grade class at Hardin Park School is doing with a service learning project they’ve named “Pennies for Pups.”
For the students, the star of the show is a certified therapy dog named Toby. Toby comes to school in Beckley’s classroom every Thursday morning accompanied by his owner Laurie Rivera. His calm and friendly personality makes him well suited for his therapeutic role and very popular at school.
“My kids love the time they get to spend with Toby,” says Beckley, “but there’s much more to the project than having a dog in class. We’re using this experience to help students learn about different service animals and service animal organizations, and they’ve been able to practice a variety of academic skills as they participate in the project.”
After learning about the different ways in which service animals can assist persons with disabilities, Beckley’s students decided they would raise money to help provide service dogs for veterans. The organization they chose to support is Paws for Purple Hearts, a group that helps veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) train service dogs to assist veterans with combat-related physical disabilities. As Beckley noted, “each dog helps two veterans in this program.”
The students have made posters and money collection containers for each homeroom at Hardin Park and they have written speeches about the project that they are presenting to each class at the school. “Writing, art, public speaking, math, and collaboration skills are all part of this service learning project, and having Toby involved makes it more enjoyable and more real for the students,” said Beckley.
Although a service learning project is appropriate any time of year, this is an especially appropriate time for Pennies for Pups because October is Disabilities Awareness Month. Mary Williams, an adaptive physical education teacher, has been working with Beckley’s class this year to help improve their understanding of disabilities and to help them learn about service dogs and other methods to help people with disabilities achieve their potential.
The class set a goal of raising $550 for Pennies for Pups by November 2nd and is off to a good start, having raised $232.90 the first week. However, Beckley said “we’d love to exceed the goal, and we’re happy to accept donations from anybody who wishes to contribute.”
Anyone who wants to make a contribution to Pennies for Pups may send a check to the Hardin Park school office made out to Hardin Park School with the words “Pennies for Pups” in the memo line.
Hardin Park School serves pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students and has a current enrollment of 789 students. It is rated a School of Distinction under the NC ABCs school accountability model.