Photo Credit: Secaucus Police Dept. Zahava Pianko, the Huber Street School Psychologist, recognized that the staff and students of the Secaucus Public Schools are faced with many daily challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and other controversial issues of 2021.
Since students struggle with anxiety and other emotional disorders, Mrs. Pianko found research to support her theory that dogs create comfort and confidence in children enabling them to develop positive socialization skills. Additionally, she theorizes that dogs create a safe working environment for students, thereby increasing their reading fluency skills.
Mrs. Pianko requested the assistance of the Secaucus Police Department’s Therapy Dog “Oakley,” who is personally owned by Police Officer Taylor Ensmann, to participate in her innovative program, which will be among the first of its kind. Two times per month Police Officer Ensmann and “Oakley” will be at Huber Street School and be present during focused group teaching sessions of approximately five students at a time during the trial period, however there will be room for further expansion as the program’s effectiveness is evaluated. The goals for the students through the use of our Therapy Dog will include, but not limited to: relieve stress and anxiety, increase positive mood and self-confidence, improve socialization skills and executive functioning and assist with sensory regulation. Additionally, a local resident Mrs. Stephanie Finelli and her Therapy Dog “Chipper” will also volunteer their time to participate in this program.
“Oakley’s mere presence brightens up children’s days and the Secaucus Police Department is delighted to participate in this program where the sole beneficiaries are the youth of this Town,” Chief Dennis Miller said. “We pride ourselves on community interaction and engagement and Police Officer Ensmann has taken that bar to new levels through the use of Oakley.”
Huber Street School Principal Rob Valente said, “I’m thrilled to have Oakley as part of the team and the Secaucus Police Department. This is an amazing opportunity for our school.”
Acting Superintendent Daniela Riser said, “I think this is a wonderful program! I know the staff and students are going to love it. This program is starting at a time when we need a little more emotional support any way we can get it. Oakley will definitely bring joy into our lives. I want to thank the Chief Miller, Officer Ensmann, Mayor Gonnelli, and Ms. Pianko for getting this program off the ground!”
Mayor Michael Gonnelli said, “I visit the schools on a regular basis and being with the children is always the highlight of my day. I am so pleased that Oakley will be integrated into the school and I am certain the program will be a great success, as anytime Oakley is around Town Hall he lifts our spirits. This is a great cooperative effort to continue to build a strong relationship between our youngest residents and our Police Department.”