Athens Intermediate School is using a new method to improve student outcomes. Zeus is a therapy dog working to improve the lives of students. Zeus works alongside his owner, sixth-grade teacher Megan Dillard.Together, Megan and Zeus are honoring the mission of the system to be progressive and caring.
Zeus assists Dillard in her classroom every day. He teaches responsibility to her students. They are responsible for feeding , watering and walking Zeus. Many children want dogs but do not have an understanding of the responsibilities associated with providing proper care. According to Dillard, Zeus’ presence in the classroom calms the anxieties of her students.
Dillard uses Zeus in many classrooms at AIS. Zeus shows students that it is ok to be different. Zeus only has three legs. This makes Zeus even more unique.
“My students that are a little different seem to relate to him a little more,”said Dillard. Zeus encourages students to be accepting of those that are different. Says Dillard, “Zeus is different, and he is rock star here.”
Dillard works with other teachers to incorporate Zeus into behavior plans at AIS. For students who struggle with behavior, Zeus helps teach self-control. Students with specialized behavior plans are rewarded with time with Zeus for achieving their behavior goals.
ACS utilizes self-contained classrooms to foster enhanced support for special needs students. Zeus spends time visiting these students to provide emotional support. He gives love to students who need that boost in their day. Zeus even promotes exercise during P.E. class. The students are encouraged to run and play with him.
Dogs teach humans many things, including unconditional affection. Zeus is a perfect picture of this kind of affection. Dillard shared her best moment she has experienced with Zeus.
“One of our self-contained students had a kind of anxiety attack in the hallway. I took Zeus to her, and he laid down next to her. He let her pet him and love on him until she calmed down. Just by being there, her attention turned to him and helped her back to a healthy emotional state. She even let him walk her back to class!” – Megan Dillard
Dillard shares Zeus because she believes he makes a difference in student outcomes. “He is very in tune with people’s emotions and seems to know just what to do to help,” said Dillard.
Dillard is creating a plan for Zeus to help struggling readers and speech therapy students. According to Dillard, Zeus enjoys listening to people read. She plans to create a schedule for students that need practice reading and speaking aloud. These students will have time alone with Zeus to read to him. Studies show that when students feel like they are not being judged, their reading skills improve. In Dillard’s words, “Who better not to judge them than a dog!”