BY JOHN VAN DER LEEK, MIDDLE SCHOOL VICE PRINCIPAL
“Hi Summer! Oh…and hi Mr. van der Leek.” She is often greeted first and I do not take offense.
Summer has connected with so many middle school students during the past several weeks and has happily done her work making friends with these mid-sized humans. In fact, when we walk to school each day, Summer seems to have an extra bounce in her step as she heads to work because she truly loves her role at the middle school.
More Than Just A Friend
Let me tell you a little bit about Summer. Her official name is PADS Summer II and she is an Accredited Facility Dog (AFD) from Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS). PADS breeds and trains dogs to be assistance dogs for people with disabilities, PTSD, and as AFDs in a variety of settings that include senior facilities, court houses, police victim services, and schools. Mostly she is a welcoming and calming presence for our ACS students; she can rest peacefully while a student reads to her, be a helpful conversation starter, or help settle someone who is elevated or stressed. The training for PADS dogs is thorough and comprehensive, taking more than three years to complete.
Dogs like Summer are more than just a friendly presence, or emotional support pet. PADS dogs are carefully bred and raised for key characteristics such as a high level of resilience—the ability to recover quickly after experiencing challenging situations. PADS dogs face many unique scenarios in their training and have their personalities tested continually throughout their development.
These dogs are a testament to the abundance of goodness found in God’s Creation.
Foot Races and Math Skills
You’ll see me and Summer as much as possible in and around the building before and after school and during breaks. Students love to stop and chat, ask if they can give her a pet or scratch, and then see if she will demonstrate one of her fun and impressive skills for them. Pulling and pushing doors open and closed garners comments like, “She is so smart!” and “I wish my dog was that smart.”
She loves to have foot races with anyone who is willing outside during break. Providing a head start for the kids still isn’t quite fair in their minds. “She has four legs and I have only two” is one of the excuses for not winning that I heard recently.
Lately her most mysterious and impressive skill seems to be her ability to do math. “How is this even possible?” the middle schoolers wonder aloud. Some students have gone home and tried to teach their dog math as well.
Summer also comes with me to the classes that I teach except to the gym. The other day I entered a grade 8 class without her because I was rushed and hadn’t had a chance to pick her up from my office after PE. I thought these older students, the grade 8s really wouldn’t notice or care if Summer did not show up for one of their classes. I was wrong! Several students immediately chimed in, “Where’s Summer?” as they entered the room. Even they appreciate her presence in the classroom.
I am thankful for the incredible gift of being Summer’s handler. She is just one ingredient contributing to the welcoming, accepting, and joyful learning environment that all the staff work so hard to establish for our students at ACS Middle School.
At times the middle years can be challenging for our students, and if Summer can be a calming, well-mannered, encouraging, and accepting presence in their lives, then she is successful in her work!