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Tia Burroughs Clayton, MSS
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Tyrone Quarterman, BA, MPH Candidate
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Nellie’s Schoolhouse

Nellie's Schoolhouse

Nellie’s Schoolhouse Logo

Program Website
Year:
2018
State:
Pennsylvania
Winner Status:
Applicant
Program Type:
Program
Target Population:
Children and Adolescents
Setting:
Community

Program Description

The mission of Nellie’s Schoolhouse is to create and maintain ongoing therapeutic relationships between children and young adults with autism and life challenges and well-mannered and well-trained dogs. During sessions with our volunteers and dogs, children learn how to approach, pet, groom, feed and walk our canine friends as well as give commands over a prescribed period of time. This is not a “one and done” program but a commitment to teaching our children appropriately and patiently – using repetition, positive reinforcement and differentiated instruction to achieve our goals. Through the learning and acquisition of these skills, self-confidence and independence are strengthened, and socialization and communication skills improve. Nellie’s Schoolhouse also trains young adults to become dog walkers, dog sitters and shelter workers through our vocational training program. Our curriculum is designed to teach our participants the skills necessary to become reliable, responsible, skilled and compensated workers. The bond between a child and a dog is immeasurable. We find that our participants feel accepted around our dogs because they live in the present and are free of any judgements. The children and young adults learn joyfully in a space and environment of mutual love and respect.

Creativity

The core of our mission centers on the special and intimate relationship between a dog and a child with challenges. Because children with special needs sometimes struggle with transitions, Nellie’s Schoolhouse is ambulatory, eliminating the potential fear and uncertainty that children may demonstrate when traveling to and visiting a new site. Children are thus able to connect with our dogs in an environment that they find comfortable. Differentiated instruction is also part of Nellie’s Schoolhouse. We honor and embrace each participant’s learning style, employing video, role-playing, repetition and independent practice. Part of our curriculum includes vocational training for young adults in preparation for jobs as dog walkers, dog sitters and shelter workers. Participants learn much needed career skills, improve their socialization and communication abilities, gain self-confidence and acquire independence.

Leadership

Nellie’s Schoolhouse has formed collaborative and consistent connections with local organizations and established mutual goals for the children and young adults they serve. Our communication with those partners is open, supportive and engaging. These partnerships have led to our new vocational program, Canine Prep, created to teach our young adults to become reliable and responsible dog walkers. This program fosters leadership in young men and women who probably have not been asked to lead in their early lives. Because we visit different homes and sites, we are also able to better understand and embrace the children and families we visit, thereby engendering a sense of community and connection. Lastly, some of our board members are also volunteers, a dual role that further strengthens awareness, understanding, commitment and belonging for all those involved in Nellie’s Schoolhouse.

Sustainability

Because our partnerships are strong and enduring, we are able to not only maintain the relationships we already have but also to form new connections. Our first year brought us 6 relationships with schools and institutions while this past year, we have seen the number of our connections increase to 12. Our relationships are based on mutual respect, trust and commitment to our wonderful children. We are involved with many diverse entities – private and public schools, camps, after-school and young adult programs and individual families in suburban and urban settings. We believe that urban areas are especially fertile for Nellie’s Schoolhouse expansion. Our participants in these locations consist of special needs children as well as those who face life challenges, youngsters that are racially, socio-economically and geographically diverse.

Replicability

Nellie’s Schoolhouse is easily replicated. Schools, camps, and after-school and young adult programs can employ our curriculum and implement into their own program facets of the Nellie’s Schoolhouse model. We are excited to offer classes and workshops and teach institutions our methods, especially on volunteer and dog training and teaching children with autism and life challenges. Through our training program, we are also teaching young adults to become contributing and vital members of the work force and serve as role models to their peers and to all those with whom they work. Institutions are able to perceive the positive results of our vocational initiative and replicate its framework within their own environments.

Results/Outcomes

We served more than 150 children and 20 young adults in 2017 across 12 institutions in Philadelphia and its suburbs. Since 2015, we have also served 18 individual children and their families. In a study done by an independent school located in suburban Philadelphia in 2017, of the 8 children studied, the majority dramatically improved their socialization and communication skills and were able to greet, pet, feed, brush and walk a dog with increased independence by the study’s conclusion. As one administrator observed, “Many of our students have anxiety, and the ability to approach the dogs at their own pace over time has been tremendous for their self-confidence.” We saw our young adults in our vocational program become self-assured and capable dog walkers this past summer. We have made measurable differences in the lives of children from diverse backgrounds – racial, cultural, ethnic, developmental and geographic.