Published June 2, 2021
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — The school district is going to receive a service dog in the near future.
Superintendent Kristen Vogel told the School Committee on May 25 that the district has been accepted into the NEADS World Class Services Dog program. She said Elementary Special Education Team Chairperson Nicole Hyde-Bradford will be serving as the assistance dog’s handler.
“The dog will be coming into work each day with Nicole,” said Vogel. “The dog will be spending time in classrooms, around the buildings, in lunch rooms and outside. The dog will also have appointments at the middle school and high school.”
Hyde-Bradford informed the Villager in an email that, “NEADS World Class Service Dogs enhance the lives of varying populations throughout the world.”
“Their mission is to positively impact the lives of individuals, families and communities with their dogs,” said Hyde-Bradford. “An assistance dog is trained to enhance the social and emotional well-being of our student population and school community.”
Hyde-Bradford said an assistance dog will benefit all of the school system’s students.
“An assistance dog will benefit the students of Lynnfield greatly,” said Hyde-Bradford. “NEADS dogs enhance the lives of those who have the privilege of working with them and involving them in their community. An assistance dog is trained to do many things. Their most important responsibility is to help develop and enhance our students’ social and emotional well-being. An assistance dog can be utilized to support emotional regulation, provide behavioral incentives, increase student independence and responsibility or help facilitate the successful transition to school or during school. An assistance dog will encourage our learners to be responsible and active participants in the dog’s well-being, promoting responsible behavior and enhancing social and emotional development.”
Vogel recalled that she used to have assistance dogs come into Tewksbury Memorial High School during her tenure as TMHS’ principal.
“It really is remarkable what a dog can do in a school,” said Vogel. “A dog can really help students who have trouble connecting. Students will talk to the dog and feel safe around the dog. I had teachers beg me to have the dog come into their classrooms.”
Hyde-Bradford said it will take time for NEADS to train the dog.
“Dogs are trained for 14 to 18 months, and learn between 50 and 60 varying tasks,” said Hyde-Bradford. “Their dogs receive specialized training and learn to become people-oriented, sociable, friendly and well-mannered. The cost to train an assistance dog is $45,000 dollars. NEADS only asks that we make an $8,000 donation to their program.”
While other organizations charge a fee for their service dogs, Hyde-Bradford said NEADS has “decided to remove the financial burden from their clients.” As a result, she said the School Department will be launching a fundraising campaign in order to raise the $8,000.
“NEADS asks that the community become a part of its fundraising team,” said Hyde-Bradford. “By fundraising $8,000, our community will make a direct impact on their ability to continue raising and training these exceptional dogs.”
Hyde-Bradford noted that NEADS trains Labrador Retrievers.
“Because the match is so important to NEADS, it can take anywhere from months to a year to find the right fit,” said Hyde-Bradford. “NEADS prides itself on its match process and requires a very complex list of criteria to be met before a match is made.”
As part of the application process, Hyde-Bradford went on a site visit to NEADS’ headquarters in Princeton.
“The interview process for NEADS is extremely involved,” said Hyde-Bradford. “After a preliminary screening and a phone review of your application, NEADS invites you to their training campus in Princeton. The site visit included an interview and an opportunity to meet and interact with some of the current dogs in training. I was able to observe and interact with a variety of dogs with different temperaments, personalities and qualities. NEADS training staff demonstrated a variety of commands the dogs have learned. I had the opportunity to interact with the demonstration dogs in order to ensure a good match is selected for the district. The staff and the dogs were a pleasure getting to know and to work with. The entire process was in-depth, informative and sincere. I could tell just how much NEADS cares for their dogs. I had the most amazing time getting to work firsthand with their service dogs. They will all be incredible service animals.”
After NEADS finds a dog that is a good match with Hyde-Bradford, she will participate in a seven-day training program in order to learn how to handle the dog.
“This training allows the dog and the new handler to form a relationship,” said Hyde-Bradford. “During the seven-day training program, the handler and the dog will be exposed to training sessions held in the classroom and community settings. After completion of the training program, the dog is ready to go home with its new handler. From there, I will bring him or her to work each day, and will take the dog into schools and classrooms. There are a number of districts around Lynnfield that have gotten assistance dogs through this program. Burlington, Hamilton-Wenham and Gloucester have had great success.”
Vogel said school officials and educators can’t wait for the dog to arrive.
“We are really excited,” said Vogel. “We are hopeful and have our fingers crossed that by this fall, we will have a new member of our school community who has four legs.”
School Committee Chairman Rich Sjoberg was thrilled the district was accepted into NEADS’ program.
“This came out of left field,” said Sjoberg. “There are so many things that we do for social-emotional learning, and this wasn’t even on my radar. The fact this has come to fruition is just incredible.”
Hyde-Bradford has created a website as part of the fundraising campaign, which is located at https://support.neads.org/fundraiser/3285082. The link is also posted on the school district’s website.
“We will also share the fundraising link via social media once the website is live,” said Hyde-Bradford.