Purposeful puppies: Archer dogs calm nerves, impact students positively


Photo credit: Francie Wallack

Susan Smith and Tracy Poverstein’s dogs, Willie and Milo, pose for a photo in the orchestra room. The two of them come to school with their owners, and they spend their time in orchestra and theatre classes with students.

By Francie Wallack, Multimedia Editor

For many, the thought of having dogs on a school campus sounds like a fairytale. For Archer students, it is a reality. According to Associate Head of School for Teaching and Learning Karen Pavliscak, ever since Archer’s founding, the leaders of the school have known one thing: Archer needs dogs on campus

Pavliscak has spent time learning about the scientific health benefits of the presence of dogs and said not only do they impact students, but also teachers and faculty.

“The research supports the mental health, the physical health and the emotional health benefits of animals,” Pavliscak said. “I think for a student [during] a busy day at school, the opportunity to have a non-judgmental connection to a furry creature that is filled with love adds immense value.”

Neuropsychologist Dr. Stixrud has a doctorate degree in Educational Psychology, and, a few years ago, he visited Archer and spent time with Pavliscak to discuss Archer’s teaching practices.

“He travels the country, going to schools where you have what they call crispy critters. Students who are so anxious, and they’re literally sculpting their brain with cortisol and anxiety,” Pavliscak said. “And he’s like, ‘There are so many ways that Archer builds lifelong learners who are filled with wonder and curiosity, and dogs are a part of it.'”

English teacher Lauren Sekula brings her two dogs, Larry and Luna, to school with her most days. She said one of her favorite parts about bringing them to school is that she is able to spend time with them all day and doesn’t have to worry about them being home alone. Her favorite part about bringing her dogs to campus is the interactions she has observed between her students and her dogs.

“It is just so sweet and sincere and lovely,” Sekula said. “Probably my favorite of all time is when kids are down on the floor with the dogs and just snuggling on them. They love it.”

Sekula’s favorite interaction between her students and dogs happened a few years ago when her class watched the movie “Coco.” Her students were sitting on the floor watching the movie, and they were crying after a sad scene.

Ms. Pavliscacks dog, Mr. Hubble stretches in a doorway as he prepares to have his photo taken. Mr. Hubble is an active member of Archer's dog agility team. (Photo Credit: Francie Wallack)
Karen Pavliscak’s dog, Mr. Hubble, stretches in a doorway. He is an active member of Archer’s dog agility team. (Photo Credit: Francie Wallack)

“Larry was just laying on the floor with a group of students who were just super sad,” Sekula said. “I just thought, ‘This is why we bring them here.'”

Similar to Sekula, Pavliscak has seen the impact of Archer dogs on a daily basis. She said she has noticed the frivolity and joy dogs bring to classes.

“I’ve seen a girl who’s doing a test, and I see her leg or her foot tapping frantically, and one hand goes down, brushes the back of this quiet critter. I see that their tapping foot slows, and I watch them breathe more calmly,” Pavliscak said. “I think to myself, ‘I don’t think we fully appreciate the moments that impact students’ health and wellbeing here based on these little silent contributors.'”

Seventh grader Josephine Hatton said she greatly appreciates spending time with dogs while on campus because of how playful and caring they are. Hatton participates in Archer’s dog agility club.

“It’s really fun because I personally don’t have a dog at home, and I really love dogs,” Hatton said. “I get to play with them and enjoy their presence, which I don’t normally get to do.”

Sekula teaches sixth grade students, which is the largest and most common entry point to Archer. She said having dogs in her classroom makes the transition into Archer less intimidating and fosters a safer environment.

“It is one of the things that sets Archer apart and makes us special,” Sekula said. “We create this home environment by having our dogs with us, so I think once they get to sixth grade, it kind of sets a tone of what we hope students will feel moving through the Archer experience. It’s not just another school, it’s like your home away from home.”