School board gets look at district’s new facility dog

Brian Roebke photo
School Resource Officer Jessica Smith of the Brown County Sheriff’s Department brought her new facility dog to the Wrightstown Community School District’s board of education meeting in March. The dog, named Betsy, was donated by Partners in Paws Service Dogs of Grafton.

By Brian Roebke
School Resource Officer Jessica Smith of the Brown County Sheriff’s Department and Laura Lenss of the West De Pere School District attended the Wrightstown Community School District’s board of education meeting in March with dogs.
The Wrightstown school district worked with the sheriff’s department to pursue a facility dog with Smith as its handler. Lenss told the board about the success she’s seen with her dog in West De Pere.
“This is a great opportunity to support the mental health needs of our students,” Superintendent Carla Buboltz said. “It’s a great partnership with Brown County that benefits our kids.”
Smith said Betsy, coming from Partners in Paws Service Dogs of Grafton, just turned a year old and just started working in Wrightstown schools. The company trains and donates service dogs that are valued in the $20,000-$25,000 range.
A church group received naming rights for Betsy because of their financial contribution. Ironically, her original name was Carla until renamed Betsy Ross.
Betsy is exclusively used for the Wrightstown Community School District and can also be used by the police force but is not part of the police force like a traditional K9 dog. “She is my personal dog that was donated to me by Partners with Paws Service Dogs,” Smith said.
A boxer registered with the American Kennel Club, she recently received a good citizen award which allows her to get into schools to interact with people.
Smith, who’s served the district for nine years, said the difference between a therapy dog and facility dog is that facility dogs like her are partnered with a facility like a school.
“Instead of servicing one human, they’re servicing a facility,” she said. “She is higher than a therapy dog, where she’s trained to perform special tasks.”
A facility dog helps students with stress reduction, calming panic attacks, motivation, and helping students with sensory stimulation for students with autism.
A dog is also said to provide:
• a reduction of aggression
• a reduction of depression and promotion of positive mood
• significantly lower stress levels
• reduction of fear and anxiety
• increased classroom performance
• increased student concentration
• improved overall mental and physical health
• enhanced empathy
Earlier in the day Smith brought Betsy into her DARE class at Wrightstown Middle School, and the kids just loved her.
“I heard things like ‘today’s been the best day of my life,’ or ‘this is the best day ever’ when I was walking in the halls,” she said.
It will be 7-12 months before she’s fully certified.
Lenss’s dog Fenton is used for deep pressure therapy, where it can use its weight and warmth as a calming strategy on the lap of a child or adult, who can then hold or hug them to decrease their stress level.
Other schools that have dogs are Ashwaubenon, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, Manitowoc, and Kaukauna.
They can also appear at community events.
Lenss, a high school special education teacher, got her dog, who’s certified for many tasks, from California.
“He’s amazing,” she said. “I have to be honest, not a day goes by that I don’t think, ‘holy cow, we’ve been together five years.’”
She still finds new ways to integrate him into her work.
If there’s a tense situation in school like having a panic attack or is very upset or angry, the kids immediately calm down when the dog arrives.
She had one student with a very high heart rate and couldn’t get it down with “every trick in the book” until she brought Fenton in and the heart rate came down within 30 seconds.
Fenton sensed the girl’s issue and put his head on the girl’s chest to calm her down.
“Dogs can sense some things that we can’t,” she said. “As good a person as you are or the next person, these guys don’t judge anybody and kids know that.”
She said she’s never had issues with dogs because they keep the dog away from students with allergy issues.
“We’ve had kids who have had a lifelong fear of dogs who are very comfortable and can be around dogs now because he’s predictable,” she said. “He’s not moving until I tell him to.”
The board approved the increase in high school graduation requirements from 25.5 to 27 over a four-year period. There is no change for current juniors and seniors. Current sophomores need an additional .5 credit, current freshmen an additional full credit, and current eighth graders an additional 1.5 credits.
Superintendent Carla Buboltz said the block scheduling was one of the positives that came out of the pandemic. The high school pivoted to academic blocks to diminish interaction between people in the school in the fall of 2020 and found it was beneficial not only for its intended purpose but also for student achievement and time for additional credits.
“By adding the additional credits we have the ability to offer more opportunities for students,” she said, including electives and youth option courses.
Board committee members previously expressed the desire to have study halls and senior privilege but those are still possible and the new requirements make it more comparable to neighboring school districts.
They also wanted a phased-in implementation, which will happen, and there’s no financial impact to the change.
Board and Committee member Jeff Nelson said he talked to some teachers from Wrightstown and other schools who love the change. “There was a little hesitancy with some math teachers … and they suggested doing math in a skinny (half block attached to the lunch period),” he said.
WHS Principal Scott Thompson said students who are in a traditional block schedule can take math the first semester of their freshman year and not take it again until the second semester of their sophomore year but Wrightstown students will have math every other day for the entire year.
“We will still have that continuity for the entire year, and then next year pick up right where they left off,” he said. “There’s not those long gaps in between.”
Board member Angela Hansen-Winker said students and parents might be concerned about having more homework but she wanted them to think about students getting the most out of their learning during these extra times, meaning it’s more constructive than it’s non-constructive.
As an instructor herself at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, she looked at all the angles of the proposal and finds it’s positive without negatives and mostly benefits the students.
She thanked Thompson and his team, noting it’s evolved and evolution is innovation. “They have capitalized on something that is really good, that I think students can benefit from,” she said.
She found the average number of credits required by schools with block scheduling is 26.43 credits.
She offered kudos to the staff for getting this done during a pandemic.
“Even though it may not be aligned with what we’re doing at this point, there is a vision that I see and I would like everybody else to see that.”
She asked what would be put into place to monitor if electives or credits are increased and she was told there will be data points that are part of the board’s data retreat.
Thompson noted they are not increasing the core requirements, so these are additional courses that students choose to take according to their interests. “Students who are going to struggle are going to struggle more with the core requirements than they are with the elective requirements,” he said. “They’re going to find that connection with staff and teachers and content that makes the elective credits more interesting.”
Business Manager Dan Storch told the board the governor plans to increase state support for K-12 education and the next step is review by the Joint Finance Committee, which will hold a listening session soon and choose the governor’s proposal or craft one of their own.
“Early indications are they will scrap the budget and create their own,” Storch said. “It’s pretty common when we have a divided government.”
A state surplus of more than $7 billion means there are a lot of ideas for spending it. Additional money for public education is a near-certainty, but how that will be finalized is anyone’s guess.