As elementary counselor Kerri Harris and two special guests walked toward the playground last week, the excitement built.
Screams of "Pepsi" were abundant as kindergarten students waited somewhat patiently for a special recess treat.
No, it wasn't a chance to have a sip of a refreshing soft drink. The Pepsi in this case is a dog — a golden retriever mix to be exact — who will begin working with students at Arlington Elementary School in the fall.
Pepsi and his handler, Linda Petricek, visited the school April 24 so students could meet Pepsi. Petricek, a retired special education teacher, lives in Valley and is certified through the Love on a Leash program. She will be volunteering the services of Pepsi as part of a pilot program for the 2019-20 school year, Harris said.
The plan is for Pepsi to come once a week. He will be used mainly to help students with their reading skills. According to research, Harris said reading aloud to dogs helps students improve their oral reading fluency better than reading to a peer or an adult.
From the reactions of students who met him last week, Pepsi should be a good addition to the school.
One kindergarten student couldn't hold back his excitement as he shouted "Love it" as he pet Pepsi for the first time. Similar reactions were heard at the south playground as third-graders sat and pet while Pepsi soaked it all in.
Harris said parents are being given the option to not have their child be part of the program in the event they have allergies or other concerns.
Harris is hoping the pilot program will show the benefits of a therapy dog and eventually lead to the school having one full-time. Harris is planning to get a small poodle mix puppy this summer and begin the process to becoming certified with it. The soonest her dog could be certified, however, is mid-2021.
Principal Jacque Morgan has called the program "a wonderful opportunity for our school community." In a letter to parents, she wrote, "Research has shown that therapy dogs support psychological growth and increase social skills and self-esteem in children and adolescents."