Dog to be trained as Willow School’s therapy dog

Colleen Spain’s 8-week-old puppy will be in training this next year so that he can be a therapy dog at Willow School in Homewood for the 2024-25 school year.

The District 153 school board, at its Aug. 14 meeting, accepted Spain’s proposal to have Walter, her Labrador Retriever, at the pre-kindergarten through second grade school. She will be the dog’s primary handler, but she has lined up two other teachers to help her during the school day.

Walter, an 8-week-old Labrador Retriever, will be in training the next 12 months
so he is ready to serve as a therapy dog at Willow School in August 2024.
(Provided photo)

Spain, a first grade resource teacher at Willow, said she will be working with a dog trainer over the next year to prepare Walter for his role at school. Spain previously worked at a school in Villa Park that used a therapy dog twice a month. She thought it was a worthwhile program and wanted to try it at Willow, but she developed a program to have Walter in the building every day.

Spain envisions setting up the program so teachers will be able to select a time slot for the dog to come into a classroom, or individual students will get time with the dog. She said she expects the program will be flexible in the beginning so staff can determine how best to use the dog.

Spain will own the dog. The district agreed to give Spain a $1,500 stipend to help cover some of her costs. 

In other business, the board and the Homewood Education Association agreed to return to interest-based bargaining to reach a new contract by May 2024. Teachers are currently entering the second year of a two-year contract. Superintendent Scott McAlister said three administrators and three HEA members attended a workshop on interest-based bargaining led by Ralph Grimm, a retired schools superintendent.

Grimm was invited to lead the bargaining sessions for District 153 this coming school year. His $8,500 fee will be split between the district and the teachers’ union. He will begin his work in January.

The board also approved a one-year contract with Zebra Tele-Therapy to provide social/emotional therapy for students and staff as needed.  McAlister said the district will buy a block of time with the company for telehealth services with a professional who can address behavioral health issues. The program would start Oct. 1 and grant funding will cover the cost.

The board approved hiring Jolyce Abernathy as a secretary at Willow School; April Mizerk, fourth grade teacher at Churchill School; Porshia Mitchell, assistant at Willow; Hattie Ballew, assistant at Churchill; Mischelle Boersma, special education assistant at James Hart School.

McAlister welcomed 30 new staff members in both certified and non-certified positions at teacher orientation Aug. 14.

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