Michigan principal shares his top strategies for starting a therapy dog program in schools   

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HOUGHTON, Mich. — Calumet’s Washington Middle School principal Joel Asiala was featured on a recent statewide series about innovation in Michigan classrooms, the BRIGHT series, for his work creating therapy dog programs in the schools where he has worked, and why they are critical to student engagement.

“I truly believe that if you can figure out how to work in an alternative setting and see success and bring that into your mainstream schools, you will be extremely successful. These are some of the students that struggle the most in your traditional classes. But they’re just classes. They’re just kids,” said Asiala. “If you can figure out how to reach a population that struggles the most, that will only enhance your ability to reach the kids at the top, middle, and the bottom.”

Michigan is home to many outstanding educators. Now in its third season, the podcast and blog series from Michigan Virtual — BRIGHT: Stories of Hope & Innovation in Michigan Classrooms — features inspirational Michigan educators known for their innovative approach to learning, what their classrooms look like, how these changes impact students, and what advice they have for fellow teachers looking to try something new. For its third season, the theme of the BRIGHT Podcast is “Three Strategies,” a chance to ask experts in the classroom to distill their wisdom into the top three things they want the rest of us to know. 

“This is a student-first approach to learning in every way,” said Jamey Fitzpatrick, President and CEO of Michigan Virtual. “Making sure students feel safe, understood, and welcome at school is the most critical step, which paves the way for student education. These therapy dogs are one way to facilitate that environment. ”

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on the opportunities for improvement in our educational system, and the perspectives highlighted in the BRIGHT series will help propel Michigan students and communities forward.  

By discovering new ways to grow, Michigan Virtual is committed to learning from local educational leaders and making a difference in education. This means learning how best to leverage face-to-face, blended, and online learning innovations to meet the needs of everyone involved: teachers, students, parents, and schools alike. 

“Watching these dogs pull students out of their shells so they can engage with the material and with one another is such a testament to the impact they have on learning. Our job is to reach as many students as possible – this is one way to connect with students with whom we otherwise may not have a connection,” continued Fitzpatrick. 

Read and listen to Joel’s BRIGHT series feature, and see the full series of interviews. For more information about Michigan Virtual, visit michiganvirtual.org


About Michigan Virtual

Michigan Virtual™ (formally known as Michigan Virtual University®) provides online courses for Michigan students, professional development for educators and is the parent organization of the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute®. As a nonprofit organization with more than 20 years of experience, Michigan Virtual is Michigan’s leading voice in online education. Visit us at michiganvirtual.org.


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