The Kids and Canines Learning Together Program, a school outreach initiative from BluePath Service Dogs, is unlocking potential for children with special needs in the Rye City School District. The nonprofit, which provides autism service dogs offering safety, companionship, and opportunities for independence, recently began an innovative partnership with the Rye Police Department that includes bi-weekly school visits from officers and BluePath dogs throughout the school year.
According to research conducted by the University of California, Davis, students who practiced reading skills with classroom dogs increased their reading fluency up to 30 percent. Further, a study published by the National Institute of Health states, “the presence of a dog in an educational setting seems to support concentration, attention, motivation, and relaxation reflecting reduction of high stress levels which inhibit effective learning and performance.”
Through the Kids and Canines Learning Together Program, BluePath dogs spend time in schools and work with children in a variety of classroom environments. The interactions facilitate awareness and understanding for students, while also allowing the dogs to become acclimated to different sights and sounds. Teachers incorporate their four-legged visitors into the curriculum, and they help to regulate behavior and prevent meltdowns.
“BluePath dogs have been amazing companions for our S.A.L.T. students (Students Advancing Learning Together Educational Program),” said Kristie Orlando-Bangali, Assistant Principal at Rye Middle School. “The dogs have become constant staples at our school; they have helped many of our S.A.L.T. students improve social interactions and relationships and have even helped some begin to overcome their fear of dogs!”
Dr. Eric Byrne, Rye City School District’s Superintendent of Schools, added, “It is amazing to see the impact that the visiting dogs have on our students. The connections being made and the growth we are seeing through social interactions is incredible. We are grateful for the support and partnership with BluePath and the Rye PBA.”
As part of BluePath’s new partnership with the Rye Police Department, officers join BluePath staff and dogs for visits twice each month at four Rye schools – Milton School, Midland School, Osborn School and Rye Middle School. The visits focus on self-contained special needs classrooms.
“Since the inception of the Adopt-A-School Program in 2016, our police officers have been a regular presence in the district,” said City of Rye Police Detective Gabriele Caputo. “BluePath dogs offer us a new way to connect with the kids, strengthening existing relationships and building trust. Most importantly, it’s easy to see the positive impact the dogs have in every classroom they visit; the PBA is proud to sponsor this initiative.”
A longtime supporter, the Rye Police Department has sponsored BluePath’s annual walkathon since its inception. This year, they approached the nonprofit about deepening their partnership.
“Each autism service dog we place will make a difference for a child and their extended circle, yet our time in schools reminds me how BluePath dogs touch so many lives on their journey,” said BluePath Vice President of Marketing and Development Michelle Brier. “Our work with the Rye Police Department has a transformative impact in the classroom while providing police officers with invaluable experience with kids with special needs. We extend our gratitude and admiration to the police department for investing in their city in this way.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, one out of every 54 children born today will develop an autism spectrum disorder. It is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States. BluePath dogs significantly reduce parents’ safety concerns and help children to lead fuller lives. Reduced stress, improved sleeping routines, and more meaningful social interactions can allow families to feel a renewed sense of hope and empowerment.
Each BluePath dog comes with thousands of hours of training from dedicated volunteers and professional staff. While the cost to prepare these incredible animals is upwards of $40,000, BluePath provides its service dogs – and intensive, ongoing follow up support – completely free of charge.
In addition to Rye, the nonprofit’s Kids and Canines Learning Together Program is also currently active in the Scarsdale and Dobbs Ferry districts and hopes to have the resources in the future to expand to more schools.