NAMPA — Meet Coco and Princess Leia, Roosevelt Elementary School’s newest staff members.
They are fluffy, cute and curious.
The two dogs help kids feel calm, confident and safe at school.
Freshly groomed, the 5-month-old Chesapeake-Poodle (or Chesapoo) named Coco strolls into the library where brothers Jaden and Elias Neider are reading. Coco gives Elias a big lick on the face.
“I just love her so much,” Elias said. “She makes me happy when I’m having a bad day.”
The brothers arrive to school late sometimes and Coco waits for the students who are running behind and greets them at the curb.
“Coco makes me feel confident and a good student, even when I get to school late,” Elias said.
The purpose of having the dogs join the school is to help students gain confidence in social interactions and reduce anxiety. Principal Shawn Tegethoff said the dogs also help students who struggle with behavioral issues and attendance.
“I knew we needed to do this to make kids feel safe,” Tegethoff said. “The dogs provide warmth for our school.”
Coco lives with Tegethoff, and Princess Leia is cared for by Susan McKay, the school office manager.
“I had to say yes,” McKay said. “It’s for the kids.”
The idea to bring a dog into the school started as a conversation in the spring when the Nampa School District dealt with a suicide.
“Children are my charge and with each suicide, each shooting, each crisis in our global school community, I feel this responsibility getting heavier on my shoulders and heart,” Tegethoff said.
After researching the benefits, Tegethoff started researching the best breeds. She wanted two calming dogs that were hypoallergenic.
“We hit the jackpot, she said.
When Tegethoff walks the dogs down the halls, kids will flock to them, asking questions, producing a positive interaction.
“It can be a mood changer,” she said.
The dogs cost $1,400. Coco and Princess Leia were named by the kids through a fundraiser to help pay for the cost, vet visits and food. Parents and community members also have been donating through a GoFundMe campaign.
Coco and Princess Leia are currently in training to be therapy dogs. The Nampa Police Department is assisting Tegethoff with training tips. She went through an approval process with the school district to allow dogs on campus. Another Nampa school is in the works of also getting a full-time dog on campus.