SELMA, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) — It’s a big day for kids at Selma Unified School District. Students returned for in-person learning on Thursday and were welcomed by teachers and friends — but at one elementary school, they were also greeted by therapy dogs.
“There’s always that nervousness of the first day, meeting my teacher, ‘Are they gonna like me? What it’s going to be like?'” said Michelle Salcedo, principal at Eric White Elementary School.
Salcedo says they wanted the pups to welcome students on their first day to help them cope with the ongoing pandemic, and the changes this year.
“All students and adults, no matter their vaccination status, [have] to wear masks while indoors,” she said. “However, outdoors we are allowing students and staff to walk the hallways, play during recess without their mask on.”
Nearly 500 kids went back to the classroom after more than a year of virtual instruction.
“I’m pretty excited to take my kids back to school. They’re ready, they’re eager to learn,” said Adrian Toralez, who has two boys attending Eric White Elementary School.
“I’m excited because I could see my friends again,” said Edgar Toralez, Adrian’s youngest child.
Excited to see new friends and old friends like Jeter and Scout. They are both certified professional therapy dogs, owned and trained by district mental health clinician Kristy Rangel.
“Kids will just come in and say, ‘Hey can I see Jeter?’ ‘Yeah, sure!’ They sit down and then before you know it, they’re spilling everything that happened to them over the weekend, and they’re identifying ‘Hey, I need help,'” said Rangel.
Jeter, 10, has been working with Selma students since 2016, and his sister Scout, 2, was just approved as a “district employee” at the August 9 school board meeting. Both dogs are cockapoos and share the same dog parents.
The pups serve as “co-therapists” for Rangel, who says they ease student stress.
“We’ve had kids who wouldn’t respond, completely shut down, and Jeter would go up to the student, nudge them a bit, sit next to them, and you see the student start to smile and then they start to pet him, and they start talking,” Rangel said.