About the Project
Throughout this year, we have been actively involved in a unit about disabilities and the many ways people cope with them. We have read children's literature to introduce each disability and integrated much of the material with other areas of my curriculum.
While studying blindness, we learned about Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a nonprofit organization that breeds and trains Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers, to become working dogs for the blind. We began working with a puppy raiser, Laura Gleeson, and her dogs, Waverly and Leanne. They visited our class each week and we have had the opportunity of learning more about the program, as well as assisting in the training and socialization of these special dogs. The students have had to learn the necessary commands and then work patiently with Waverly as she continues to master them.
A woman who suffers from cerebral palsy, Diana Embury, and her service dog, Pate, also visited us. She talked to the children about how Pate helps her with everyday chores. Opening a door, bringing a can from a cabinet, and assisting her if she falls, are but a few examples of how Pate makes her life more independent. My class was charmed by this wonderful dog, and wished to raise money to donate to the East Coast Assistance Dogs, Inc., the organization responsible for training him. They held two cupcake sales, and raised additional money through generous donations, for a total of $700. The money was donated to ECAD to help defray the cost of Diana's dog.
We also were permitted to visit ECAD's Pet Assisted Learning Services dog program in Dobbs Ferry and observed the trainers working with several dogs. We watched as they opened doors, turned lights on and off, took clothes out of the washing machine, and many other tasks. We saw where the clients stay as they are being trained to work with their dogs. The class was intrigued with the modifications made to the living space to accommodate wheel chairs, and took pride in their contribution to this valuable program!
Our class has learned a great deal about the many ways dogs assist people with disabilities. More importantly, they have experienced the fulfillment of helping another human being lead an independent life. The benefits of this program extend far beyond the classroom. My students are, indeed, learning to "see" with new eyes.