The Secondary Therapeutic Classroom at Bert Nash offers an alternative to a traditional special education classroom setting in a variety of ways.
Including the four-legged variety.
The classroom, which began in 1988 and is a collaborative effort between the Lawrence School District and Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, provides a structured, therapeutic environment for high school students who struggle with social-emotional issues and need a setting that offers specialized small-class instruction, as well as individual and group therapy.
A certified special education teacher, a Bert Nash therapist and two paraprofessionals staff the therapeutic classroom.
Along with Ranger.
Ranger, a nearly 3-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, is a trained therapy dog.
Special education teacher Lanell Finneran owns Ranger and brings him to the therapeutic classroom at Bert Nash. Having a therapy dog in the classroom is, well, therapeutic for the students.
“It helps kids want to come to school to be able to engage with Ranger,” Finneran said. “If a student is feeling down or upset, Ranger’s role is to be near to them, calm them and provide unconditional love and support. Ranger brings a sense of humor and fun to the classroom as well.”
Students enjoy having Ranger in the classroom.
“I love Ranger,” one student said. “Whenever I come into the classroom and am feeling down, Ranger is there for me. Ranger is there when I need him to cheer me up or just make me smile,” a student said.
“I look forward to coming to school and being welcomed by Ranger,” another student said.
Finneran has been bringing Ranger to the classroom since he was a puppy. He will be 3 in June.
Before Ranger was part of the therapeutic classroom, there was Scout, another Jack Russell belonging to Finneran and her husband, Robert.
“Scout was going on 10 years old when Ranger started coming to the classroom,” Finneran said. “I had them together for the first semester. I retired Scout in December. That next semester, Ranger started on his own.”
Scout still makes an occasional appearance in the therapeutic classroom.
“I bring him in every now and then,” Finneran said. “The kids — and Bert Nash staff — still want a Scout fix.”
Besides the age difference, Scout and Ranger interact differently with students.
“They have different personalities,” Finneran said. “Scout likes to be on somebody’s lap; Ranger not so much. He would rather have students toss him a ball and bring it back to them, preferring a different style of interaction.”
As therapy dogs, Scout and Ranger are trained to be sensitive to students and their emotional needs.
“Scout would pick out the student who most needed attention. I knew whoever the student Scout was closest to was the student I needed to pay attention to,” Finneran said. “Ranger has not fully developed that ability to pinpoint a student most in need of attention. That ability comes with age, additional training and time spent with the students.”
During his almost 10 years as a therapy dog at Bert Nash, Scout was like a member of the staff. Now Ranger is providing the same kind of animal-assisted therapy.
Both dogs don’t just provide therapy in the classroom, but also assist others in the building. In fact, Scout and Ranger have made appearances at the Bert Nash summer camps, entertaining young clients with their tricks.
When Ranger is in the classroom, he’s working. When he’s home, he’s a pet.
“When his work collar comes off or his work scarf comes off, he’s off duty,” Finneran said. “He can tell the difference. Scout was the same way.”
When Ranger comes home at the end of a workday, Scout is waiting for him.
“They love each other,” Finneran said. “They are best buddies.”
For the two Jack Russell Terriers, romping and playing together at home is their therapy time.