Popcorn is celebrating first grade graduation with her own cap and gown! “The students and staff consider Popcorn as much a part of the class as anyone. Our students and staff could not imagine having a graduation ceremony without her!” said Brandi Reiske, Popcorn’s handler and WES teacher.

Popcorn is a Facility Intervention School Dog trained by Service Dogs Alabama (SDA). Popcorn has been going to school every day to assist the students at Wetumpka Elementary School (WES) since 2015. “Having Popcorn in the classroom helps students cope with almost anything. To them, if Popcorn can handle something, so can they,” says Mrs. Reiske. “She gives the children added confidence, and she pays special attention to the ones who may need her a little more.”

Popcorn, one of 11 trained Facility Intervention School dogs in the Elmore County School system, helps to lower anxiety, encourage inclusion, and raise test scores for students. Since 2015, the Follow the Lead pilot program has produced astounding results in the Elmore County School System. 2016 research showed 100% of teachers reported fewer discipline issues with students and no disciplinary referrals to the office due to classroom issues. All teachers reported increased inclusion and participation among students, a calmer classroom environment that were more conducive to learning, and lower stress levels among students and themselves.

Service Dogs Alabama has an exclusive partnership with the Alabama Department of Education (ADE) to provide Alabama schools with Facility Intervention Dogs. ADE provides partial scholarships for seven schools per year and SDA raises the additional funds. School educators, counselors, and even principals are selected to take the dogs in the schools. The dogs can interact with hundreds of students daily. Frances McGowin, Executive Director of SDA, commented, “Having a trained Facility Intervention Dog as a consistent presence in a school can change the whole dynamic of the school.”

SDA is the oldest and largest non-profit organization in Alabama serving both veterans and children with disabilities and has placed over 104 dogs into service. SDA is dedicated to providing medical and psychological assistance dogs to children, adults, and veterans with disabilities, as well as facility intervention dogs for schools and courtrooms.

SDA has developed a 43-acre state-of-the-art training campus in Hope Hull, AL (Guice Slawson Training Complex), built an additional kennel facility in North Alabama, created a prison-based dog training initiative, and will soon open an office in Alabama’s Bay/Gulf area.

For more information visit: www.servicedogsalabama.org