The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

We Need More Dogs in Schools

Having almost nothing more to do today but eat, sleep, and watch television, I decided to look over some of my old writing that I had never published. I soon found one that looked like it would be good for supporting schools where kids feel lonely or unappreciated.  For that reason I decided to post it and hope it will please you as much as it did me. But if not, just through it away and forget  I suggested it.

Because the article was old, long, and included information no longer relevant, I did some cutting. But I think you will get the main message and find some good advice there. Here we go.

               Making Comfort Dogs an Everyday Part of School   

Cameron is no ordinary dog, not just because he was born on Valentine Day to Maggie, a first-grader at a country day school. That terrier with chestnut-brown eyes and  fluffy black hair is more like a friend than a dog. When Cameron is near her, Maggie feels happy and safe. She added “He will lay down and ask me to scratch his tummy,”

Cameron is one of a handful of dogs at a private day school.  He started showing up there when the head of the school brought his lab to the office. Jeff Sindler, the head of the school, adopted him and brought him to the campus where he became a school favorite. He said.“They don’t care if you’re good at basketball, a great reader, or popular, they just want to be loved.”  Cameron and the other dogs on campus go a long way toward improving students’ social and emotional well-being. They reduce tension, soothe anxiety, and elicit happy feelings from students.

Sindler also said that they bring out some basic and important emotions and are especially helpful for children and adults who struggle in social interactions. Just as important, dogs on school grounds set a positive, welcoming tone. They help preserve the school climate that Sindler believes Burgundy embodies: one that is accepting, supportive, and curious. “Dogs are one way to hold on to that atmosphere,” he said, adding that “schools should be fun and exciting, and dogs can be a big part of that.”

According to research, there is something distinctive about dogs that makes them so companionable. Unlike cats or snakes, dogs have evolved with humans for about 30,000 years, developing skills that make them adept at understanding social and emotional cues from humans. For example, dogs make eye contact and follow where a person points. When frightened, they seek comfort from humans. And according to Yale researcher, Molly Crossman, who studies how humans interact with dogs, “there is encouraging evidence that dogs cant reduce stress.”

Hospitals, nursing homes, colleges and and other large places for people have pounced on such studies and brought in dogs and other animals as a way to reduce stress among their populations. But there’s one large cohort usually excluded from the canine influx: children in public schools. With the exception of service and police dogs, ordinary ones are largely absent from public schools. Many towns pass ordinances that even forbid dogs from stepping on school property or taking up residence there. Some school districts also enact “no-dogs’ rules to protect children who are afraid of dogs or allergic to them, and keep school property free of dog waste.

A program that started in New York City incorporates dogs in ordinary classrooms may be challenging the no-dogs rule.  A program launched in 2016 by the Department of Education, pairs select dogs with participating New York City schools. Begun as a pilot with seven schools, the program expanded at the start of the 2017 school year to include  elementary, middle and high schools. Chancellor of City Schools Carmen Fariña gave the go-ahead for the idea when a fifth-grade boy from Queens made the suggestion. In addition to offering comfort, some of the dogs are deployed in teachers’ lesson plans to encourage empathy, cooperation and decision-making. “It’s an innovative approach to social-emotional learning,” said Miranda Barbot, a spokeswoman at the NYC education department who is familiar with the program

Nina is a 9-month-old boxer/beagle mix with a toffee-colored coat and a distinctive underbite. Rescued from a shelter in Virginia who made her way up to New York and now trots off to a high school in Brooklyn with Dave Robinson, an assistant principal there who adopted her. Robinson and school principal. Hoogenboom applied to the Comfort Dog Program when they heard how well it had worked in elementary and middle schools around the city. “Our attitude was, if something’s good, let’s do it here,”

Abraham Lincoln High School educates some 2,000 kids from various backgrounds and is the only large high school in New York with a comfort dog.  Hoogenboom recognized that some teenagers might not want to interact with Nina, because of allergies, fear, or a cultural inhibition. Before bringing in Nina, he sent all parents a “positive option letter” that they had to sign before their child could interact with her. Having a dog in school also requires sensitivity to faculty,

Nina gets to work early in the morning, where she holds office hours so that students can drop in for social visits. After lunch, she spends two hours in counseling sessions with small groups of kids, where she wags her tail, looks at students with her doe-like eyes and exudes indiscriminate affection. Hoogenboom and Robinson said she has had a positive effect on both students and teachers. Attendance at counseling sessions has picked up because kids want to see Nina, and her presence in the meetings gets students to talk more openly. She has helped kids in crisis, offering elemental comfort that humans could not provide. And she sets a welcoming tone at school that has proved helpful in lowering tension. Robinson said, “We’ve had instances with students who were agitated and about to get in a conflict, and she helped bring them down from 10 to 0,” .

Sindler has observed similar reactions to his dogs, not only with the children at Burgundy, but also among students at a year-round school in Baltimore where he used to work. Children there often came from challenging backgrounds. Many of them lived in poverty and had to travel through dangerous neighborhoods to get to school, or shared a too-crowded home. When these emotionally needy children encountered Luke, Sindler’s benevolent Labrador, they relaxed and were more prepared to learn. The dog seemed to fill unmet emotional needs. For children whose primary experiences with dogs had been limited to frightening confrontations involving growling and teeth, the interactions with Luke also softened their perception of animals. For Sindler, including Luke was part of an effort to create a safe environment where learning could flourish.

A man from Yale was careful to point out that public enthusiasm for dogs as support animals outstrips actual evidence. Dog-crazy humans are so hopelessly bound to the animals that they may perceive emotional benefits that don’t exist. But many students and teachers swear by them. If by some decree all dogs were forced to leave campuses, something special would be lost, said Max, an eighth-grader at Burgundy who is especially happy when the math teacher’s dog lopes around during exams.

This piece was edited by my frend, Don Bellairs 

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Good Morning Frends

Dear frends,

Yesterday I was very pleased to receive offers from those of you who want to help me with my spelling.  It was hard for me to ask for help, because as a teacher and writer when I was younger I  had no trouble spelling words. I think that what has happened to me know are the results of my age and being confined inside my apartment everyday. Although I receive lots of food regularly and other necessary items, I get very little information about what is happening in our building or outside, and I have no physical contact with anyone; only a few phone calls.  Most of my information coms from television, and that is usually disheartening.  So I think all of you can see why it’s hard for me to spell words and why I need to reach out to friends or family members.

So, let’s go slow with just one word helper at a time.  When I write I will send the piece to  just one person, and wait for the results.  Then when I get it I will post.  Dose that seem reasonable?  Let me know what you think, and I will follow your best suggestions.




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I Need Help

Dear friends,

One of the worst problems for people isolated over a long period of time is forgetting how to spell words.  Unfortunately that is now my strongest and most embarrassing  problem. Once I taught reading and writing successfuly to children in schools, but know I need help even to writing my own name.

Up until now, when I needed to spell correctly my computure helped me, but its help was neither quick nor easy to follow.  I managed by trying to correct my wrong spellings, but that has become so difficult that now I just replace errors with different words.

After revealing my current problem I humbly ask for your help. When I need to write again and wan’t to post my work, would anyone have the time to read my writing and correct it?  If so, please let me know your name and when, where or how you could help me.

Thanks for your your many strong responses in the past.  Any help you can provide now would be much appreciated.




Don’t rush things. Stay safe. Help others.

I am writing for the first time this week because I was having trouble with my computer. Fortunately my sons and daughter-in-law teamed up to figure out the problem remotely and get me connected again.

Although I’m pretty old by now, and have been given most of the good things of life, I‘m not ready to die.  The world is in a terrible mess right now and I’d like to do my part to help everyone clean it up. Wouldn’t that be worth all our time and effort?

The first thing that needs to be cleaned up is our national leadership, and I’d like to do it with a big broom to their backsides. Telling people to go back to work when leaders know very well that the virus will kill many of them makes no sense. Who benefits from rushing out too soon and without proper safeguards in effect?  Many people will die or suffer permanent injuries, and not just old people like me.  Instead we should be making sure that people have enough money to eat, pay their rent or mortgage and be safe.  We need to help out of work employees, small businesses and farmers.  Big corporations and the wealthy should not be getting handouts they don’t need right now.

Speaking of wealth reminds me that we all need to think about what we should do with any money we can spare. Those of us who can, should contribute a few dollars to help people who have nothing left for every day needs.  Today is the time for us to help each other, rather than play politics with people’s lives and livelihood.

I’ve given you a lot of advice that you may or may not agree with.  I am physically safe and have most of the things I still need, except direct human interaction. But now is the time for all of us to recognize the terrible tragedy and danger we are now living with, and to decide how to clean it up as best we can. What you choose may not be the same as what I have chosen, but all of us can think of some small things we could do, give, or say in order to make life better for everyone still here and the young ones who will soon be in our shoes, learning to walk straight and honestly.


Here’s hoping for happier times again.


Suggestions to Parents at This Hard Time

As an experienced school principal and the mother of five children, I learned that children can learn well outside of school if thy are reading and also writing at home and sharing there work with friends and family members. In fact, children may learn even better than they did in school.

Several years ago my husband and I brought our four children to live for a year in a city in Belgium where there were no English schools, but our children were able to attend regular foren schools nearby. There, along with reading at home, they learned enough to move on to the next grade when we came back to the United States.  Mainly, they did so by reading the books we bought for them every week in a foreign city and by traveling to nearby towns.

Although our children didn’t learn as much back then as they would have learned in schools at home,  it was still enough for them to go on to there next grades and finally to colleges.  My claim is that American children can learn well enough at home next year if it is managed well by parents and assisted by friends on the phone or able to send written messages.



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