The Henry Viscardi School Welcomes New Facility Dog

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There’s a new pup on campus

Third-grader Ryan walks with Sunny, the Viscardi Center’s new facility dog.

With a new school year underway, the Henry Viscardi School at The Viscardi Center celebrated how one new staff member is motivating students with disabilities to succeed.
Sunny, a yellow Labrador Retriever trained by the Guide Dog Foundation, became the first and only permanent facility dog at the Henry Viscardi School at The Viscardi Center, which serves children with severe physical disabilities who may require consistent, life-sustaining medical treatment.

Joined by Guide Dog Foundation President and CEO John Miller, The Viscardi Center president and CEO John D. Kemp hosted a welcome event to discuss Sunny’s unique upbringing and placement. The Henry Viscardi School’s Head of School Angelo Zegarelli and students then shared how Sunny has made an impact on their lives since he began working at the school in June and demonstrated some of his skills.

“When kids are comfortable, they learn better,” said Zegarelli. “As part of our social-emotional learning curriculum, Sunny helps our students get acclimated to their environment and manage their stress levels throughout the day.”

Sunny, who works and lives with an on-staff handler, has been trained to help enhance the learning experience for students as they go about their academic activities. His daily tasks include greeting/goodbyes with students as they start/end the day, motivating students during physical and speech therapy sessions, providing a safe and non-judgmental partner during reading activities, assisting students with pushing power door buttons, walking with students as a reward, and acting as a social and emotional learning tool.

According to Zegarelli, having a facility dog around urges students to meet personal goals and focus on their work. Third-grader Ryan and fourth-grader Adryana have been pushing themselves to walk longer distances in physical therapy with Sunny by their side. Second graders are eager to read challenging books aloud when Sunny visits their classroom. Eighth-grader Perla said spending moments with Sunny in between bell rings makes her feel less stressed about her responsibilities.

“Sunny has this natural way of keeping students calm and relaxed so they can be their best, whether that involves memory recall during an exam or expanding vocabulary in speech therapy,” said Zegarelli. “In fact, having him around motivates us all—and that includes students, staff and faculty.”

—Submitted by The Viscardi Center

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