I am not the only person who thinks Kris and Titus are amazing. She recently had an article written about her in Inside NOVA.
INDEPENDENT HILL, Va. --
Students in Nancy Dow’s class at Independent Hill School were practicing their verbal, motor and social skills Wednesday morning.
And they had some help from an unusual teacher.
Titus, a 5-year-old golden retriever, waited patiently as the five students in the school’s moderate cognitive impairment class took turns selecting brightly colored balls, making eye contact with him, throwing the balls and rewarding him with a pat on the head and praise of “Good dog.”
One student, Ryan Walker, was hesitant at first and inched away from the dog. But after a few minutes, Ryan grabbed a ball and threw it cross the room. He smiled broadly when Titus retrieved it.
And his teachers seemed happy too.
“I’m impressed,” Dow said. “That the first time he’s initiated that himself. That’s a lot of progress.”
Titus and his handler, Manassas resident Kris Campesi, have become regular visitors Independent Hill this year.
Titus is a therapy dog, registered with the Delta Society, a non-profit group that works with therapy and service dogs and their trainers.
Campesi, a retired middle school science teacher, volunteers her time at Independent Hill and other area schools. Campesi and her golden retrievers, Titus, 12-year-old Buddy, who is now retired, and 1-year-old Malachi, who is still in training, have been visiting special education students, patients at area hospitals and victims of disasters for years.
In 2008, Titus and Campesi went to Texas after Hurricane Ike, and Buddy and Titus have regularly visited area residents after fires and other disasters, as part of the Red Cross disaster support team.
Recently, Campesi has been focusing her efforts on working with special needs children, particularly autistic children.
“Working with special needs children is exciting,” Campesi said. “I saw what a difference it can make for them and so that’s what I devote most of my time to now.”
This year, Campesi and Titus have been working with students at Independent Hill, PACE East and Battlefield High School in Prince William County, at Cougar Elementary School, Manassas Park Elementary School and Manassas Park Middle School in Manassas Park, and at Matthew’s Center, a private day school for autistic children in Manassas.
Administrative intern Lori Sterne and teachers at Independent Hill said they’ve been impressed with the work Titus and Camepsi have done there so far.
“She is extremely specialized,” Sterne said in an email. “For example, Titus is trained to lean heavily on students because our autism students have a real need for pressure as sensory input. I think it’s really fascinating.”
Campesi said many therapy dogs and handlers work with children, often through the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) program. But fewer therapy dogs work with special needs children.
“Not many people are doing this with special needs kids,” Campesi said. “Working with special needs kids can be very unpredictable. There’s a lot of noises that can be scary for the dog. But I’ve seen the good this can do.”
In some classes at Independent Hill, the students work on basic skills like verbalizing commands and petting and brushing Titus. In more advanced classes, the students play games with Titus to practice math and other academic skills, Campesi said.
“We try to make all of the activities as educational as possible,” she said.
Campesi said she hopes research will eventually be done to measure the results of special education students working with therapy dogs. Until then, she and area educators have anecdotal evidence—such as stories about normally non-verbal students who will speak to Titus and autistic children who will maintain eye contact with him—that they feel demonstrate the benefits.
“The students will interact with the dog in a way they won’t interact with people,” Campesi said. “They can get Titus to do what they want him to do and it gives them confidence.”
Campesi said she is glad that several area schools are willing to let her and Titus work with their students.
“Prince William County’s been very receptive about doing this type of thing,” she said. “I’m just really impressed with principals and schools who say, ‘We’re willing to do whatever works for our kids’ instead of saying ‘That just isn’t done.’”
Staff writer Amanda Stewart can be reached at 703-530-3908.
We are honored to know Kris. We are proud to have worked with her. We are blessed to have her as a friend. We are looking forward to many more years of working with Kris. Wes and Tanker, and Topher and I hope to work with her Special Ed classes at Anne Moncure Elementary next year. Wes and I have shadowed her in that school and we have gotten to know the teachers. We also hope to have Bella and Shiloh trained up to be able to work too. Thank you, Kris, for all you have given us. You are an amazing person.