When Rocky arrived at the Life Skills classroom at Plymouth High School, the students naturally knew what to do.
They loved him!
Tammie Radican, PHS Life Skills Teacher, has dreamed for over ten years of providing an emotional therapy dog for her special needs students. Within the last month, Plymouth High School gained a new “student” who now roams the halls and resides in Room 1131. In his short time here, Rocky has changed the lives of the students, teachers, and PHS aides that he “does school with” daily.
Rocky is an adorable black GoldenDoodle that was gifted by a breeder from Howell, Michigan. Plymouth Community School Corporation’s Assistant Superintendent Jill VanDriessche, researched service dogs and was fortunate enough to find this reputable breeder. After reaching out, the breeder voluntarily gifted this sweet new puppy to Plymouth High School. Rocky was born on January 15, 2022, and made Plymouth his home on March 13, 2022. PHS Life Skills aide, Marrissa Ritenour, has worked with Tammie Radican since she was a student aide at LaVille High School during her senior year. For the past twelve years, Marrissa has trained service dogs through Northern Indiana Service Dogs and has been working and caring for Rocky since mid-March. Her experience is a blessing in being able to train Rocky for his future job.
When speaking to Tammie and Marrissa, both commented on the same types of observations. “Rocky calms our students and gives each of them unconditional love.” Rocky’s sweet demeanor happily cuddles with each of them, and the excitement that the students demonstrate as they play with him is evident on their faces.
Tammie and her classroom aides have witnessed so many positive things with the introduction of Rocky in the classroom. “Rocky has brought such “calmness” to our special needs students with regards to their behaviors and attitudes, and the level of engagement not only with Rocky but with the academic piece has been remarkable. High school is tough and challenging, not only for my students but the other students in the building also. Rocky provides a diversion, something else to focus on when it is a hard day, or we just need some encouragement” Tammie shared. It isn’t unusual to find a student sitting on the floor doing math with Rocky right beside them, sitting on a student’s lap or he may be sitting under a student’s chair. Sometimes just a quick walk with Rocky provides a “lift” to brighten the day and make it easier to manage. Each of her students has a sense of responsibility that has also been seen by the other Life Skills instructors. The interactions that have been observed by the staff have unified students because our special kids often have so many hurdles or obstacles in their lives. “We all have challenges we face, but my students face some pretty big ones. Having Rocky has brought so much joy and ultimately peace to them individually and the classroom as a whole”, added Tammie.
“Rocky Time” will be built into Tammie’s next year’s class curriculum for her special needs students. Rocky has created a bigger vision for all of those that work and interact with our special PHS class. I personally watched in awe as these high school students surrounded Rocky on his “nap mat”, listened to how sweet they all talked to him, and most importantly, how they interacted with one another. Students were encouraging each other to come play with Rocky and before I knew it, he was encompassed by a group of his new friends. Rocky’s “puppy cuddles” seem to speak to each of the kids that were holding him. It was as if he was emotionally connecting with each of them by just letting them spend time together.
In his short time at PHS, Rocky has promoted incredible engagement in classroom activities and has helped create positive attitudes towards learning in each of the students. He has truly given these young adults such a sense of pride and empowerment to not only engage with one another but to be excited to come to school to learn.
Rocky! You have found your place in so many hearts at PHS and you will always be a part of each of them because when they needed a hand, you gave them your paw.
Front Picture is Jayden Gamble
Article provided by PHS College & Career Coordinator Kelsey Flynn