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Fergie Jane makes her presence felt at Elolf STEAM Academy

There’s something special about a dog.

They are our best friends. They are family members.

We spend an obnoxious amount of money on them. They get their way in the house. And frankly, they live the life - sleeping all day, eating when they want, and not having any chores.

But we’ll do anything for our dogs, and they’ll do anything for us, including bringing joy and comfort into our classrooms.

A study by the National Institute of Health found that a dog’s presence in a school can promote a positive mood and provide significant anti-stress effects on the body. They provide social-emotional and cognitive benefits, have been shown to increase school attendance for students, create positive changes that lead to better learning, and help to develop positive relationships with students and their peers.

That is what Fergie Jane is doing at Elolf STEAM Academy.

Her owner, Assistant Principal Tiffany McHugh, is making sure that she is a contributing member of the school community by training her to be a service dog. As of now, she plays a vital role specifically with special education students but is available for all members of the Elolf community.

“If I say, ‘do you want to go see your kids,’ she knows where to go,” McHugh said, as we walked into Mrs. Baumbach's special education classroom.

Their faces lit up and huddled around Fergie Jane. As she sniffed around, as dogs do, she showed patience and kindness with the students.

“Chances are, she’ll go to the student [who needs her the most] and allow them to release some energy and anxiety that they may have,” McHugh said.

She pointed out one student who was, at first, scared of dogs. But through his interaction with Fergie Jane, his nerves eventually calmed down. When Fergie Jane now comes into the classroom, he is more excited than nervous to interact with her.

But she’s not limited to just students.

“I have teachers who come and visit her,” McHugh said. “They’ll text me to make sure she is on campus. She helps to calm them down if they are having a stressful day.”

She has even been used to calm difficult situations with adults.

“I had a parent come in upset,” McHugh said. “Fergie Jane was in my office and I told him, ‘if she is bothering you, let me know.’ But all she did was sit on his lap and the parent was petting her the entire time. Eventually, the parent and I were able to have a great conversation and his concerns were addressed.”

As we toured around the school, Fergie Jane was the local celebrity, getting pets on the head and shakes of the pawl from every student in sight.

As we entered Ms. Hinds' room, Fergie Jane introduced herself to every student at their desk.

“It makes me happy that the dog can make me feel better,” a Thunderbolt student said.

After 15 minutes of hanging out in Hinds' classroom, as we left, Hinds picked up Fergie Jane and held her tight, reminding us that even teachers need support just like the students do, even if it’s from a dog.

“I need her too,” Hinds said.

The classroom can be a stressful place for both students and teachers. However, Elolf is blessed to have the support of a four-legged friend to ensure that everyone is supported throughout the school year.

So if Fergie Jane needs a new sweater, or have her way in McHugh’s office, or sleep and eat and not do any chores for a day, I am sure she will be allowed to, knowing that she is taking care of each and every Thunderbolt.

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