Students at North Rockford Middle School will soon be seeing a new member of the school counseling department and she will belong to the whole school. Chillie, a 3-year old yellow Labrador retriever, will be the district’s first School Counseling Dog and a welcome presence at NRMS. Chillie was a service dog for a local agency and is making a career change to spend her time with students and staff at North.

On Monday, April 8, the Rockford Public Schools Board of Education approved the dog’s acquisition to help support the district’s commitment to the social and emotional health and wellness of RPS students. School Counseling Dogs provide a valuable sense of support and calmness to students who are experiencing anxiety, depression, or stressful circumstances in their lives. NRMS Principal Lissa Weidenfeller has wanted a counseling dog at North for many years to help students in need. “When we look at programming for NRMS, we not only focus on academics, we focus on the social and emotional well-being of our students as well. We want our students to be excited about learning, comfortable in their environment, and motivated to do their best. Providing support for students is essential and the introduction of a counseling dog is another system of support that can be used to help our students succeed.”

This opportunity could not have been possible without the support of partnerships. The Rockford Education Foundation (REF) provided the funding to acquire and train the dog. Additional partnerships include Rogue Valley Veterinary Hospital and our local Chow Hound. In addition to providing professional canine advice, Rogue Valley Veterinary Hospital will also provide veterinary care and preventative maintenance. The local Chow Hound is providing the food and bathing for Chillie. In addition, Interquest Detection Canines will continue to partner with RPS to provide support, recertifications for Chillie, and staff training.

Beth Meyer-Kraff, Executive Director of the Rockford Education Foundation (REF) stated, “REF is excited to provide the funding for this innovative program at North Rockford Middle School. The REF Board of Trustees recognizes the important link between social-emotional wellness and academic success, and we feel Chillie will be an incredible benefit to the NRMS students.”

Kim Heys of Interquest Detection Canines has worked with RPS for over 15 years and has been training dogs for detection and counseling work. In addition to Chillie’s service dog experience, she has also been trained to be a counseling assistance dog in a school setting.

Chillie will be working with school counselor Mrs. Ohlman as the primary handler, and Clare DeVeau, our social worker, as the secondary handler.  She will be located primarily in their offices. Chillie’s job will be to interact with students in order to bring about a positive change in their emotional or physical state, diffuse tense situations, provide assistance when needed, and open up new possibilities to the educational environment. In addition to Chillie being utilized for intervention purposes, she will also be available for students who are just interested in being around her. Some examples include:

  • Counseling Office Appointments: Students may sign up during their lunchtime, before school, or by reading during Connect.
  • Classroom Visits (where there are no allergies to a dog’s presence).
  • Reward Systems, Small Groups, Individual Counseling Sessions, and more.

Chillie will begin her new career at North Rockford Middle School on May 1, 2019.