course selection and college applications. More than one fourth of our 3rd through 12th graders are featured in one of two annual theater performances each year. The list goes on.
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” Aristotle
Other parents want more qualitative measures of success. While these can be a bit harder to quantify, the school’s commitment to instilling strong moral values in each student is probably top of the list. This is accomplished by staying true to Episcopal’s mission and ministry of preparing students for lives of purpose. This starts in Lower School with daily morning meetings celebrating faith and community and deepens in Middle and Upper School as students learn to make connections between academics, spiritual life and service, and the world around them.
Parents rely on this type of information to establish Episcopal’s credibility and value. And while achievement-based statistics are certainly important, we believe experiences play an equal, if not greater, role in measuring “the best.” Deeper than knowing Episcopal will provide their child a firm and lasting academic foundation, parents want to know we will tend to their child’s heart and mind. They want their child to be known, to be challenged, to be celebrated and to be encouraged.
How then should you, as a parent, measure the success and impact of our mission and ministry? By experience, of course! Experience Episcopal’s joy; come delight in our campus and get a general sense of the happiness your child will feel at Episcopal. Read through our blog and see the school come to life through photos and stories of the creative ways we learn and grow. It is our stories that bring our statistics to life and illustrate what makes us the best.
“If something happens to me, what are my regrets?” This is the question Episcopal graduate Mikey Diodene found himself contemplating in 2012. Mikey’s dad, Dr. Mike Diodene, Jr., passed away that year. In addition to being Mikey’s hero, Dr. Diodene was a military hero having served in the army for 40 years. Mikey had fond memories of growing up in a military family and attending drill weekends. He had even discussed his desire to serve his country with his dad long before 2012, but the time just didn’t seem right.
Fresh out of high school in 1999, Mikey was determined to play football for LSU. At Episcopal he had been a successful athlete, competing in football and track and field. When it came time to compete for a spot with LSU, he drew on the lessons learned in the Knights’ locker room – work harder, study longer and bring value to your team. The effort paid off. “I walked on at LSU. I made the team. I did it,” Mikey says. The perseverance required to walk on to that team and play football for Nick Saban has served him well as life has unfolded.
After graduating from LSU in 2003, Mikey began a successful career in medical sales. Working alongside local orthopedic surgeons to ensure the latest medical technology was being effectively used to save and improve lives, Mikey came into his own. At this point in his life he dropped the “y” from his name, becoming Mike Diodene, the executive.
In 2012, a series of events began to unfold that would test Mike’s resilience in ways he had not imagined. With the loss of his father, he began reflecting on his own legacy. “I took a step back and looked at things,” Mike says. He realized that he was fortunate to have earned a great education at both Episcopal and LSU. His blessings also included a strong marriage to wife Regina, kids and a flourishing career. However, growing up with Dr. Diodene as his father and role model, Mike learned early on the importance of serving and assisting others. This desire to serve remained and he still yearned to follow in his dad’s footsteps. So, at 34 years old this husband, dad and business professional applied for a direct commission with the United States Army Reserve. Initially, the military pointed to his age as a potential concern, but Mike respectfully requested further consideration. Again, his persistence paid off and a panel of officers approved his candidacy. Mike Diodene became a citizen soldier.
Just as Mike’s military career was taking off, his career was also blossoming and he was asked to oversee sales for Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Mike successfully juggled the requirements of being a soldier and an executive until he was called to active duty at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. When he returned, his job had changed and the two parted ways. For six months, Mike was out of work, enduring the ups and downs of a job search and never giving up. During that time, his wife was pregnant with their third child and the family, who lives in Woodland Ridge subdivision, was hit with the unthinkable challenge.
Mike says being unemployed during the flood of 2016 was actually a blessing in disguise, allowing him to repair his badly damaged home. With a gutted home, a new baby and deployment orders to Kuwait in support of Operation Spartan Shield, blessings were certainly needed. Unexpectedly, Mike received a personal visit from his Division Commanding General (3rd Medical Command), Major General William Lee. After seeing the destruction of Mike’s home and the challenges Mike was facing on the personal front, MG Lee provided an unexpected bit of relief. Mike’s deployment orders were canceled, allowing him to continue his family’s recovery process while commanding the rear detachment and remotely managing logistics for the forward deployed portion of his unit. Another blessing came in the form of a job opportunity. Despite the fact that his business suits had flooded, Mike interviewed for a position in casual clothes and got a job with Vascular Access Center. In 2018, he is still with the company and is now the Regional Director of Physician Liaisons in the Department of Business Development and Marketing. The company is supportive of his military service, which means everything to a man who is committed to serving his country.
“When God closes one door, he opens a window.” Mike says looking back on his experiences, he realizes he was more than prepared for the challenges he faced, even if he wasn’t aware of it at the time. Two-a-day football practices taught him to fight through adversity. Episcopal Cross Country’s Coach Dupe taught him to find the positives when faced with challenges. The military taught him to hunt the good stuff. His father taught him to serve others. Putting all of this together, First Lieutenant Mike Diodene is fully equipped to face life with the resilience, determination and fortitude to succeed.
Not only is 1LT. Diodene succeeding, he is also inspiring others. Fellow Episcopal classmate Matt Ward, Commander Select in the United States Navy, personally understands the demands of being a citizen soldier and the depth of character required to handle it well. “I’m also a reservist and understand what a difficult balance it is. You only have two hands, but have to juggle family, a civilian job, and a long list of military duties that you only get two days a month to complete when the active duty side gets all thirty! I could not imagine how difficult it was for Mikey to leave his career to join the Army Reserves, serve actively while simultaneously dealing with the loss of his house during the flood, all while supporting his family as a great father and husband,” says CDR (sel) Ward. “He clearly puts the needs of others first in a self-sacrificing manner.”
Enduring these challenges has only strengthened 1LT. Diodene. When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, he received orders to deploy and support the recovery. Given his healthcare management experience, 1LT. Diodene’s tasks are often medically focused. In Puerto Rico, he was one of two soldiers tasked with ensuring the safety of the island’s food supplies, inspecting everything from MRE’s to fresh produce. As a soldier, he helped bring 16 Department of Defense facilities back online, reopened six hospitals and assisted in restructuring the operation of an Army ground ambulance company. After hours, as a man who had experienced firsthand the destruction of a natural disaster, he helped locals with recovery efforts. 1LT. Diodene befriended a local family who owned a Puerto Rican neighborhood grocery store and pub that reminded him of the New Orleans eateries he knew as a child growing up in the Crescent City before relocating to Baton Rouge. 1LT. Diodene and another soldier helped the family get their generator running, patched the family’s roof and helped clean up the property. “There were a ton of similarities in the clean-up process over there, when compared to your own clean up at home after a hurricane,” he says when reflecting on how his own flood recovery prepared him to serve and assist others.
and 1LT. Diodene have been married for 12 years and together they have three children: Isabella (age 10), Victoria (age 6) and Nelson (age 2).
In speaking with First Lieutenant Diodene, you get the feeling of calm confidence. He seems to relish learning new things, from the intricacies of medical equipment to the inner workings of a FEMA disaster response. In less than 20 years since graduating from Episcopal, 1LT. Diodene has accomplished so much. He walked on to a highly competitive LSU football squad. He established a successful sales career. He is raising a beautiful family. He is honoring his father with a life of service to his country and to others.
He is resilient. He is prepared. He is a man with no regrets.
We salute you First Lieutenant Diodene. Thank you for your service.
Congratulations to the Middle School math team for their recent success at the Episcopal math tournament. The team placed third overall on the Interschool Test. See all of the results below.
Luke Stelly - Honorable Mention
Akshay Basireddy - 3rd place
Joie Lee - 1st place
Thomas O'Connor - Honorable Mention
Autumn Reynolds - Honorable Mention
James Be - Honorable Mention
Scott McAdams - Honorable Mention
Middle School Team - Fourth place: Kailyn Borskey, Lauren McGrath, Thomas O'Connor and Mia Pulliam
Second place: Joie Lee, Autumn Reynolds, Luke Stelly and Noah Vincent
Comp math 1- Honorable Mention: Akshay Basireddy, James Be, Sacha Dernoncourt and Scott McAdams
Something special is being cultivated in Middle School. Recently, sixth graders in Stacy Hill’s science class worked with special guests from the LSU Ag Center Master Gardeners program to propagate succulents. As you might expect in a science class, students learned about soil ratios and growth requirements, such as light and water needs. As the plants grow, students will now make observations and track their progress. While this may seem like a typical science lesson, this is just the beginning.
Students and their little succulents have actually embarked on a service learning journey to promote literacy and reading. Middle School English teacher and project organizer Martha Guarisco says students researched illiteracy and book deserts last year, which inspired them to take action. That action is now underway as the little succulents begin to grow and flourish under the students’ watchful eyes. This service learning journey will eventually encompass science, English, social studies and math before it is complete.
Students began this journey in science class to give their little buds time to grow. Later this school year, students will host a plant sale with funds generated benefiting area organizations such as Lines 4 Lines and others who promote reading among area youth. Guarisco says Episcopal students and teachers will use funds generated from the sale to purchase books especially for each group. She says this will allow project participants to purchase books that personally resonate with recipients, which is a critical component of sparking a child’s interest in reading. “Seeing yourself in a book connects you with that book,” says Guarisco, who says this fosters a love of reading that is beneficial for developing brains and bodies.
As the succulents expand their footprint, the service learning project will also expand its reach, including math, social studies and English. While Hill leads students in scientific observations, math teacher Nancy Callaway is leading discussions on the cost of growing succulents, pricing estimates and the number of books that can be purchased with the funds generated. In Virginia Day’s social studies classes, students have studied food deserts, similar to how they studied book deserts in English class. As the plant sale approaches, students will also design logos and promotional materials.
Middle School Division Head Lucy Smith says such teamwork and collaboration among faculty and staff makes an Episcopal lesson even more meaningful. “It always is exciting for me to see the grade-level teams of middle school teachers collaborating to plan a cross-curricular project that engages our students in real-world problem solving. Making connections across the academic disciplines is engaging and motivating for students. They feel terrific when they know that their hard work and learning makes a difference for others,” she says. “I look forward to seeing the students' enthusiasm grow as the project work proceeds!”
The succulent project has numerous components, but the lesson is quite simple. “I want students to appreciate their own literacy as a lifelong skill,” says Guarisco. She also wants students to understand the huge advantage that literacy provides and the complexity of illiteracy. Students will continue to explore these concepts as the little succulents grow. Look for more on the project this spring as the plant sale approaches.
As Teacher Terrific Tuesday approaches next week, make sure to thank a teacher for the difference they make!
These are just a few examples of the highly-qualified teaching professionals at Episcopal. Episcopal teachers are parents, alumni and volunteers. They hold advanced degrees and certifications. They have traveled the world and published works for the world to see. They are experts and they care about their students.
Across the country, 118,000 teachers have earned National Board Certification. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards says that “through National Board Certification, teachers demonstrate that their teaching meets the profession’s standards for accomplished practice through a rigorous, peer-reviewed and performance-based process, similar to professional certification in fields such as medicine.” Arceneaux says certification is important to her because it reflects her commitment to being the best teacher she can be. “I care about what I do. I work hard to be a better teacher so my students can benefit,” she says.
Becoming board certified or even renewing certification is an impressive feat. Arceneaux says teachers must submit written information about their classroom experiences and videotaped samples of their classroom sessions. For her recent renewal, Arceneaux had to reflect upon her last ten years of teaching and what has changed during that time. “It was a very rewarding experience,” she says. “It gave me the opportunity to look at how I’ve changed as an educator.”
Callaway also appreciated the opportunity to reflect on her work. “By nature, teachers are lifelong learners. I am always seeking ways to fulfill this need,” she says. “Ten years later, working toward my renewal of my certification provided a chance for reflection on my growth as a teacher as well as an opportunity to plan for the future.” For Guarisco, National Board Certification was a valuable opportunity to not only reflect on her craft, but also to connect with others in the teaching profession. “I was among the first few nationally certified teachers in Louisiana years ago, the closest I’ve ever felt to being a pioneer. At that time, teaching could be a lonely profession. There just weren’t the vehicles – Twitter and EdCamp come to mind – to connect with teachers outside your own building,” she says.
Patty and Carl Newton established the Newton Distinguished Faculty Award because of their belief in the difference Episcopal faculty make in the lives of students. Each year the Newton Distinguished Faculty Scholarships are awarded to three outstanding educators to support the professional development opportunity of their choice. In addition, The eFund also supports professional development for teachers. Over the years, teachers have been able to participate in everything from The Teacher’s College of Columbia University Writing Workshop to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Teacher Institute. Read more about available professional development opportunities in Head of School Hugh McIntosh’s Academic Point here.
Episcopal’s teachers are highly-qualified, skilled professionals with approximately 65% of them holding an advanced degree. In addition, many of them have spent time working as a professional in their field of expertise, while others have taught in higher education. While their credentials are certainly impressive, it is what these individuals do every day that sets them apart. “The teachers in this community deserve the world, for they are not only instructors but also mentors and even friends. There is no other administration in the state that I trust would invest as much time into my journey as the administration at Episcopal.” Shannon Ahmad ’18
According to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), one of the benefits of an independent school education is the small classes that allow for individual attention. At Episcopal, small class sizes led by highly-qualified teachers afford students a more personalized educational experience because of the relationships that are forged between students and teachers. These relationships are likely what students will remember long after their time on Woodland Ridge is over.
and staff. The Episcopal community is being asked to think back and give back on behalf of all the faculty members who work tirelessly to make a difference in students’ lives. Look for more on the 1965 Minute Challenge next week and don’t miss your opportunity to support your Episcopal educators.
Do you have a favorite Episcopal teacher? Leave us a note about how that special faculty member positively impacted you.
Open the cherry red doors to Frazer Hall and you will be met with the buzz and excitement of our youngest Knights, hard at work exploring the world around them. The Early Childhood program at Episcopal is building a solid foundation for future learning. Students are expanding language and vocabulary, learning valuable critical thinking and problem solving skills, and strengthening their fine and gross motor skills in order to prepare them for the educational journey that lies ahead. The children simply call this “play.”
Play allows children to process and understand the world around them. Each project in Pre-K is carefully constructed to give students multiple ways to build content knowledge. In their current study of community helpers, various learning centers reinforce the learning going on in the classroom. Students at the light table can examine x-rays of animals like a veterinarian. The writing center has been transformed into a post office where students can write letters, weigh and measure mail and sort letters for delivery into numbered boxes. The students practice new vocabulary they have learned from first responders in the dramatic play center, which has been turned into a fire station.
Another critical piece of the early learning foundation is providing opportunities for children to develop knowledge about the world around them. Students can read the word “frog,” but if they have never seen or touched a frog, there is a disconnect in their learning. The Pre-K garden is an oasis of learning for our students. Students and families worked together to bring the outdoor classroom to life in August. In September, students began to notice signs of the butterfly life cycle. Eggs dotted the milkweed plants and eventually hungry caterpillars hatched. Students were able to observe the entire cycle from start to finish and documented their observations in many ways. From field notes and drawings, to publishing an illustrated book, students used their experiences in the garden to enhance their learning.
Students are also learning to be part of a community. This role starts in the classroom. Each morning begins with classmates greeting each other in a special way. They are also part of the larger school community. Partnerships with their fifth grade buddies and Mrs. Sutcliffe’s writing classes have allowed them to work together with students outside of their peer group. Bringing in visitors like police officers, the Baton Rouge Fire Department, and EMS has taught them about their important place in our Baton Rouge community.
Odds are, if you ask a preschool aged child what they did at school today, their response will be something resembling, “We played.” Remember that the child playing with blocks is learning critical thinking skills like balance and ordering. Remember that the child working with playdough is strengthening their fine motor skills to become a great writer. Remember that the child checking out customers at the dramatic play center is learning how to be a member of our society. These seemingly simple moments in their day are teaching our youngest learners big lessons so that they can be successful students throughout their journey at Episcopal.
Julie Mendes, a 2001 graduate of Episcopal, returned to teach Pre-K4 at her alma mater in 2012. She received both her undergraduate degree and MEd in elementary education at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. After teaching second grade in a Dual Language program in Texas public schools for three years, Julie moved abroad to teach first grade at a bilingual school in Gracias, Lempira Honduras. Julie enjoys teaching alongside some of her former teachers and seeing what life is like on the other side of the desk.
"The strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack."
Lower and Middle School students will become wolves, monkeys, vultures and elephants as they take the stage for the upcoming production of Jungle Book Junior. Audiences will be transported to the jungles of India as students explore this classic tale of a human child raised by animals. As is customary with theater productions at Episcopal, viewers will be asking themselves – how did they do this?
For ten weeks now, students and faculty have spent countless hours together learning lines and practicing movements. Families have provided support, snacks and car rides to and from the VPAC throughout the entire process. Elaborate sets have been created and costumes have been ordered. Along the way, a remarkable thing has occurred.
The 2018 Jungle Book “pack” has been formed. This pack is comprised of students from all divisions and all backgrounds. Lower School Music Teacher Tricia Delony and Theater Director Paige Gagliano say students are getting to know each other as they serve as mentors, coaches and cheerleaders for their cast mates. This can be seen as seventh graders compliment third graders for a job well done or as young students aspire to be more like their older counterparts. Delony and Gagliano emphasize that the students are part of a whole, with each role and each performer important to the community’s success.
An Episcopal theater production is an empowering experience for student actors. Delony says as the performers learn their lines and grow to own their character, the story truly comes alive. “They become comfortable enough to dig deep and do what comes naturally,” she says. This sense of empowerment is also allowing students to share their culture with their cast mates. Eighth grader Nidhi Sthanki has choreographed the opening song as a celebration of her Indian culture. Delony and Gagliano say Sthanki has taken pride in working with her cast mates and enjoyed the process of sharing a part of herself with others.
Gagliano says theater productions are also a celebration of the learning process and that process can be messy. “Mistakes are ok,” she says. “We want the performers to stop being afraid of making a mistake.” Gagliano says even as students stumble on lines, they are gaining life skills as they move on and try again, proving that even mistakes are a bare necessity of learning.
A majority of the Jungle Book performers are athletes, academics and artists. Delony and Gagliano say having the freedom to explore multiple interests creates the well-rounded child at the heart of the Episcopal mission. In addition, these empowered actors and actresses are developing the sense of responsibility required to juggle multiple interests at one time. For example, Gagliano says students are communicating with each other about what they may have missed in the event of a scheduling conflict and some have asked to come in even if they are not on the rehearsal schedule to make up missed practice time.
In a play that explores themes of love, kindness and acceptance of others, these young performers are naturally gaining confidence, empathy and understanding. “That’s what art does. It teaches us lessons,” says Gagliano. Once the curtain closes on the 2018 Jungle Book pack, students will be left with a lasting sense of community. Audiences will know that the performances, which appear effortless for such young students, were actually the result of hard work, hours of preparation and a commitment of many to the success of the pack. That is simply how an Episcopal theater production is done.
Make plans to attend Jungle Book Junior! Click here to purchase tickets for performances that run November 12th through 15th.
A frequent topic for both students and educators is the significance and purpose of one's time in school and the impact education will have later on in life. Teachers often remind us of the benefits of a well-rounded education and how no learning opportunity should be wasted. While the benefits of learning subjects that may or may not be used in one's future career varies from student to student, the impacts of subverting the learning process for the sake of ease have significant consequences. Unfortunately, students might find themselves tempted to cheat as a result of not seeing the value in their education, and the rate at which students cheat on average around the country can be disheartening.
Academic dishonesty can occur when students fail to see inherent value in their educational process and when students have a less sophisticated or developed moral compass. The good news is that schools can foster this moral development and encourage intrinsic motivation every single day, and this happens here at Episcopal.
Scholars Christopher Qualls, Lafe Figgars and Danette Gibbs found that as many as eight in ten college students self-report cheating, according to their paper in The College Student Journal. Liora Schmelkin, a professor at Hofstra University, has conducted research indicating that around seventy percent of high school students cheat. Most shocking of all these statistics comes from a professor of medicine at the University of Zagreb in Croatia. Taradi found through numerous surveys that a whopping ninety-seven percent of those medical students surveyed have cheated during medical school. Students who will go on to hold people's lives in their hands and even those educated at the most selective universities can shortchange their education. Further, the negative impacts of people in important careers who cut corners don't start and stop with those in the medical field.
Similarly, business schools are sometimes plagued by a lack of academic integrity. Assistant professor of business at William Woods University, Stephen Forsha, has not only found that business schools have high rates of academically dishonest students but also a set of students who tolerate academic dishonesty more than others at different institutions. In recent years, insider trading scandals have shaken the business world and have been the catalyst for large amounts of public discourse on corruption from major companies. These scandals have also cost innocent people millions and resulted in huge numbers of lost jobs. Many corrupt corporate executives behind these scandals attended prestigious undergraduate and graduate schools with a focus in business. Many have another thing in common that makes academic dishonesty a very important issue.
The biggest reason students are academically dishonest is that they lack fully-developed moral development. Moral development is a psychological theory founded by late psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg, which quantifies the levels of moral reasoning that guide a person’s actions. The lower levels of moral reasoning relate to self-interest and are (supposed to be) mostly exhibited by younger children. The intermediate level has to do with social conformity, and most teens function at this level (ideally). Fully functioning, well-developed adults are supposed to function at the highest level, which has to do with principles and ethics that do not sway in the face of societal pressure. Kohlberg’s theory was made with the assumption that most people function at a level of moral development that is appropriate for their age, but in real life this isn’t always true. This is where the problem with academic dishonesty becomes obvious. It has been found by the previously mentioned Stephen Forsha that business students display levels of moral development commonly displayed by young children and make arguments relating to ethics that are directly related to their own self-interest. Putting people with the same amount of moral development as children in positions of massive power and wealth is bound to lead to all sorts of problems, and of course it has with all of the previously mentioned examples of business scandals.
But, this does not have to be reality. Lynn Aaron and Catherine Roche, two academics published in the Journal of Educational Technology Systems, have found that academic dishonesty rates have risen tremendously from 1988 to 2008. This coincides with schools becoming more focused on performance and less focused on ensuring students are good citizens and human beings. Around 1988, schools stopped making character education mandatory, and academic dishonesty rates rose as a result. If the world wants to make sure students value being a good person and approach their lives with the same ethical attitudes across all of their endeavors, then schools need to return to focus on having conversations about ethics.
When all my research was said and done, I reflected on my time at Episcopal and realized several things. The first was about how lucky I was to be a member of the Episcopal community, and how much our school truly cared about its community. This included the honor code and our school’s mission to make students become good people who go on to lead purposeful lives. It made me feel lucky to be so involved in a true preparatory school: one that is not only concerned with producing good students and workers but good people as well. Episcopal has achieved this goal in every avenue I’ve witnessed. This truly hit me when members of the honor council at Washington and Lee University came to discuss our school’s honor system with us, and our entire discussion group revolved around trying to make our school’s system of integrity better. It became clear that we have succeeded in our mission and that Episcopal helps encourage students who are willing to speak about things they thought were wrong and try to make what they were passionate about better.
Ben Levine is a senior at the Episcopal School of Baton Rouge, and has attended the school since the 4th grade. He was inspired to join Thesis for the opportunity to hone his writing and speaking skills, and also to share something that excites him with other people. Outside of school, he has been an active member of a year round swim team and was runner up at the state meet his junior year of high school.
“You’re a Facebook famous puppy,” my family friend said in an excited, smiling tone as she reached out to pet my dog. This was the first reaction when Bailey walked in to a meeting I was attending.
My dad’s Facebook profile overflows with pictures of a short, long haired and tan dog with white spots and the fluffiest white tail you can imagine. Bailey, our flood-rescue dog, has the face of a chihuahua and the body of a papillon. If you examined my dad’s profile page even a little, it would be hard to believe Bailey wasn’t the only member of the Solomon family. There is no way to really know our family without knowing Bailey. Along with pictures of her sitting on his office chair or posing with pumpkins for fall, you can find pictures of her visiting with her fans: people who love to be visited by this happy pup and request her presence.
Aside from her modeling “career,” Bailey and my dad, Jim Solomon, are a registered therapy dog team through Tiger HATS LSU. In the midst of the Louisiana floods of 2016, this lost dog followed my dad through the streets near a home he was helping to fix. After searching for her home and not having any success, he soon adopted her, and began to realize how even-tempered she was. Having just moved from Newtown, CT, Jim had experienced therapy dogs himself after the Sandy Hook tragedy, and Bailey reminded him of the positive impact they had on him. He wanted to find a way to share her sweetness with others.
In “The Effect of Therapy Dogs on Children in a Learning Environment,” Kimberly Ann Scheckler defines a therapy dog as “a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, people with learning difficulties, and stressful situations, such as disaster areas.” These dogs are trained and evaluated through many organizations such as Love on a Leash, Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, and The Delta Society Pet Partners. Screening and examining of the owner/handler is also performed through these individual groups.
Therapy dogs are used for animal assisted therapy, which means they comfort anyone through petting or just viewing, and they have been found to have many positive benefits. Just a few of these benefits are outlined by Christine Cochran of Roxy Therapy Dogs. In just “15 minutes of petting a dog: blood pressure drops 10%; serotonin rises (relaxation); cortisol decreases (bad mood); dopamine increases (depression fighting); and anxiety is reduced.” There are many physical benefits to visiting with a therapy dog in a short amount of time. Adolescents, and those who parent or work with them, are no strangers to the challenges that can pop up during this critical time in our development. Stress and pressure is inevitable. But, sometimes, more serious obstacles like depression and anxiety can affect an adolescents’ schooling experience.
Helping with obstacles such as these, dogs can also provide a sense of belonging, as Mary Louise O’Brien states in her article “Pets as Counselors.” She notices that dogs will “love you (unconditionally) just the way you are.” There is no need to impress a dog or to feel judged because they have no way to process it. It also becomes easy to trust them, as they are incapable of repeating your information.
To utilize the positive effects of therapy dogs, Tiger HATS facilitates a program in the Baton Rouge community. The organization holds classes to allow dog owners and their pets to learn more about becoming a team through the organization Pet Partners International. The duo must then pass a series of exams to become certified and gain an insurance coverage policy. After this, the teams will be sent out to locations around Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to visit locations and bring joy to difficult situations. One of Bailey’s most visited places is the Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, where she gets to cheer up patients who are recovering or families of loved ones in a state of emergency.
After seeing the impact the two made on others, I decided to become a registered therapy dog team with Bailey. I now get to take her to the Parker House, a “Therapeutic Group Home in Louisiana for children ages 3-13 who… have been diagnosed with a severe behavioral disorder or a mental illness,” according to Volunteers of America. I get to introduce her to kids who seek comfort and share funny stories about her to gift them with a moment of peace in the midst of their chaos. In just the two visits I’ve had at the house, I’ve seen the difference therapy dogs make in these children’s lives. Their eyes light up, and they become ecstatic when they get to walk or hug her. Bailey becomes their own piece of joy in the moment, and they become disappointed when she has to leave, but they hold on to the hope that they’ll see her, along with the other dogs who visit, again the next month.
Audrey Hendler, the founder of a therapy dog program in New York City, A Fair Shake for Youth, visits students alongside dogs to teach them about empathy. She found that the middle schoolers she reached out to gained empathy and confidence as they realized the dogs were relating and listening to them. She also noticed that “Having an adult tell them they’ll be back next week and then showing up is a big deal to these kids… [because] adults aren’t always a consistent part of their life.” Not only does this example show the joy dogs can bring, but it can relate to the sense of trust the kids at the Parker House begin to experience.
I began to realize that if registered therapy dogs are this beneficial, why don’t we see them utilized more often and in different environments? I think they should become a new norm. I’d like to see them more often roaming hallways in schools or even in other environments that may cause stress, such as an airport or a mall. When looking at schools, it’s important that these places of education are open to trying out new things, and Episcopal has proven this is possible. Bailey has made appearances here at Episcopal for educational purposes and has been welcomed happily by the counseling staff and administration. With clear benefits and insurance fighting against potential drawbacks, there is little to no room left to argue against the implementation of therapy dogs. Just a moment of petting these sweet creatures can bring a great amount of relief, and I’d love to share that with others, as I know the feeling myself.
This idea of therapy dogs being used in schools were first introduced to me after the Sandy Hook tragedy when they helped me and my classmates in the search for comfort. To learn more about this experience that lead to my research, click here.
Ashley Solomon has been a student at the Episcopal School of Baton Rouge since her sophomore year and is an Honors Diploma candidate. In addition to her involvement in the Thesis program, she participates in cross country, Mock Trial, and is the community service coordinator for the National Honors Society. Her thesis explores the importance of mental health in adolescents and the effects of implementing therapy dogs in a school setting.
Abby is six and dressed head to toe in pink with light-up glitter Sketchers, still fresh with shoe store fragrance, on her feet for her first day of first grade. Finally, she is allowed to walk herself to the bathroom and eat lunch with the big kids in the cafeteria. In class, Abby’s teacher hands each student two primary colored folders: either blue, yellow, or red. The primary colors are completely separate and unique; they cannot be blended with anything to make the others. This idea of separation also carries into the materials inside the two folders. The first folder is for math, learning how to handle the combination of numbers, and the second is for English, the first steps towards understanding words, then sentences, and then whole stories and chapter books.
This separation of disciplines from a very young age is not only common but relatively standard in schools across the country. Clearly this system works: children go in, learn one subject, learn another, go home, read, do a few math problems, and repeat the next day. However, this system leaves little room for the messiness of learning, for the neon pinks and lime greens, for the experiences that cannot be neatly cataloged but shape the course of children’s development.
Luckily, our Lower School program at Episcopal celebrates this “messiness of learning.” You need not look too far to see Pre-K tending to their gardens while learning about butterfly migration to Mexico, all while dancing in rain puddles and creating imaginary worlds and vivid stories with their friends. This sort of holistic approach to learning comes naturally to the smallest of learners and should be embraced as they continue to grow and develop.
At home, this messiness manifests when Abby is baking apple pie with her grandmother, throwing a ball with her little sister, practicing the piano, coloring on the walls of her room, or digging for dinosaur bones in her backyard. Abby is learning and her brain is following suit.
These sorts of experiences, at home or at school, show the world functioning in interdisciplinary ways. When you bake you have to keep sight of a long term goal while following sometimes tedious instructions and understanding the chemistry of mixed ingredients. When you throw a ball you have to think about the angle of your arm so it does not fly straight into the ground, and when you play the piano you have to be able to read the music and hit the right notes simultaneously. Just as they are in life, subjects in school are innately connected and these connections between different academic disciplines in everyday life make the idea of interdisciplinary learning in the classroom seem less daunting or radical.
Here at Episcopal, students like Abby practice this interdisciplinary style of thought everyday. Through project based learning, students are exposed to real world situations and are asked to engage with their environments. On the Coach Dupe trail, in the art room, and while programming robots: Episcopal encourages students to explore new ideas that wind like rabbit holes into lands of imagination.
Specifically, music and math are two subjects that, when purposefully connected, fit this philosophy quite nicely. As shown in an experiment by Johannes Sarnthein, listening to music for ten minutes can greatly increase brain activation in the prefrontal cortex, which is located at the very front of the brain. The cortex houses what are called executive functioning skills, which include spatial temporal reasoning, planning, decision making, motivation, and goal setting. Students who excel in math are typically adept in processes like pattern recognition, which not only relies on executive functioning skills, but is also present in music comprehension.
This innate connection is an example of the reinforcement of skills in education. The way the brain works on a basic level is that when we learn something and have it reinforced in some way, it will be processed to form neural pathways within the brain. All of these pathways add up to create a network of constantly growing and changing knowledge.
As stated in "The Optimum Context for Learning; Drawing on Neuroscience to Inform Best Practice in the Classroom" by Bettina Hohnen and Tara Murphy, “an immature brain is not necessarily one with fewer neurons; rather, it is one with fewer connections between neurons.” Even though our brains stop growing after the age of five, according to Daniel Pink, as we grow the number of connections in our brains dwarfs the number of neurons one million times over. Just as everyone eventually stops getting taller without having experienced everything or knowing everything there is to know, our brains stop getting bigger without ceasing to learn and further develop.
For current parents, a dramatic shift in the education system during your child’s time in school is unlikely, but there are ways to nurture the messiness of learning at home to augment the more traditional practices of the classroom. The next time you’re baking a cake together or rearranging the furniture in the living room, help your child see the many different academic disciplines that are intersecting. Encouraging kids to try new activities and experience new things, particularly ones that might be scary or uncomfortable at first, can help impart in kids a drive and love of learning that is applicable all through school and will help them learn and develop necessary skills throughout their lives.
Hallie Sternberg has attended Episcopal since Kindergarten. She will graduate with Honors in May, 2019. In addition to her involvement with the Thesis program, Hallie is an avid participant in the Episcopal theatre and choir programs, a member of National Honors Society, Co-Editor in Chief of Troubadour (Episcopal’s Literary Magazine), a Writing Fellow, Math Tutor, and President of the French Club. Hallie was invited to present on a panel at the Popular Culture Association Conference this spring. After graduation, Hallie hopes to go on to major in Cognitive Science.