McGee goes to school

Post date: Apr 19, 2016 12:14:10 PM

Wells Junior High School students now have a big, furry, four-legged friend to turn to should they ever need some nontraditional, nonjudgmental support away from the classroom. And that friendly creature is ‘McGee’, a light colored golden retriever always at the ready to retrieve a ball or receive a hug and sit quietly with a student seeking refuge from a bad day at school or home.

“We all have those moments,” said WJHS Physical Education teacher Renee Savage who has been bringing McGee, a trained, certified therapy dog, to school to help students cope with a variety of emotions such as excess worry, stress or anxiety. “He just calms you down,” Savage said of her dog turned therapist.

Savage said she and McGee attended therapy dog training classes together and passed the therapy team test. She added that they are now retested every two years. As a team, the bulk of their work is actually away from school volunteering with Alzheimer’s patients in Dover and central Massachusetts. According to Savage one of these patients spoke a few words for the first time in two years after McGee licked her hand.

This spring, McGee has been coming to school Mondays and Thursdays to meet on a scheduled basis with three groups totaling 10 students primarily in Savage’s PE room or in the PE hallway. These times with McGee include an intramural class after school.

“They love it, they look forward to it,” said Erin Mansfield, a self-contained classroom teacher in the Bridges Room who sends two autistic students to be with McGee for a while each week. “One kid in particular knows what time is “McGee time,” added Mansfield.

Savage has lots of success stories about McGee’s work but one instance at school stands out. Shortly before a school field trip last June, a sixth grader appeared to Savage to be in emotional distress. His condition was so intense that outside help was considered at one point by staff who were unable to calm the student. However, before that could happen, McGee was called in to help. Following twenty minutes with McGee, the student was able to relax and refocus enough to be able to board the bus for the field trip and remain calm for the rest of the week.

“It was truly one of those amazing things in education where you get goose bumps and you’re like ‘wow’. That truly, truly worked,” said Savage of McGee’s help in that instance.

Savage says her 6 year-old dog has lots of energy with the students but is exhausted by the time evening arrives, a time to rest up for another day on the job.

PE teacher Renee Savage with therapy dog, McGee