Facility dog Daryl comforts, ‘listens’ to children at Midtown elementary

MADISON – A calming influence, an incentive for good behavior and an empathetic source in times of crisis. Daryl, the facility dog at Midtown Elementary School, serves in those roles . . . without saying a word.

Arriving at Midtown, Daryl wasted no time in exerting a positive influence. In his first week, he met all kindergartners, second-graders and fourth-graders. He was introduced to students in grades 1, 3 and 5 during his second week.

Daryl can be used to deescalate an upset student, be an incentive for positive behavior or help a child who has experienced trauma or grief, Midtown Principal Savannah Demeester said.

Midtown families embraced Daryl immediately. He is a 60-pound Labradoodle, a cross between a Labrador Retriever and a Standard Poodle.

Demeester is Daryl’s primary handler; he lives at Demeester’s home on nights and weekends. Midtown Counselor Carissa Davis serves as secondary handler and sometimes keeps Daryl. Daryl is primarily black but has white marks and some red in his face.

“Daryl came from Service Dogs of Alabama, the oldest and largest non-profit organization in Alabama,” Demeester said. Service Dogs of Alabama has placed more than 85 dogs across Alabama for veterans and children with disabilities; medical and psychological assistance; and facility intervention dogs for schools, hospitals and courtrooms.

“Our school staff and Building Leadership Team decided to pursue a facility dog. We (saw) the positive impact Barnie made at Madison Elementary and collectively felt strongly that this would benefit our students,” Demeester said.

“Research has indicated that dogs can impact student performance by reducing stress and increasing motivation, focus and task persistence. These dogs can detect adrenaline and cortisol levels emitted from a student and identify a child in need,” Demeester said.

Daryl turned three years old on March 7. In a character-building lesson, Midtown students gave gifts, like a water bowl, dog bed, Nylabone and dog food, and wrote affectionate messages to Daryl, who ‘responded’ with a set of pawprints on Midtown’s Facebook page. (Facebook/Midtown Elementary School)

In addition, first-graders in Shannon Stallworth’s class rehearsed and sang a song to Daryl for a birthday surprise. Music teacher Emma Moreton helped with their musical tribute. Students sang, “Daryl, Daryl, we all love you at our school. We think that you’re really cool.”

Daryl gave incentive when Midtown’s English-as-a-Second-Language students finished ACCESS requirements for the English Language Learners test. Students celebrated with “Dance Party With Daryl” in acknowledgment of their hard work.

This summer, Daryl will stay busy. “He will come to Midtown each day and continue to work and be present with students. Midtown is hosting a summer camp, MCS Summer Reading Camp and EL Camp,” Demeester said.

“Applications are pending for two more facility dogs for our elementary schools,” Superintendent Dr. Ed Nichols said in his “District Update.

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