As he sauntered into the classroom, clad in a tie-died shirt, cries of recognition went up from the students: “Rocky!”
The small group of Beulah Elementary School students then rushed their canine visitor, crowding around Rocky and patting his head as his tail wagged excitedly.
Rocky, a roughly 4-year-old bichon frise and poodle mix, is a therapy dog, owner Jeanie Noble said. Rocky was found as a stray, she said, and her family adopted him. He ran away from his new home twice, and they put him into a training class, said Noble, who lives in Chester.
After about the second training class, she said, the trainer asked if Noble had ever considered making Rocky a therapy dog, as “he would be great with kids.”
“He loves kids. He loves people,” she said. “He’s so soft, and the kids love how he feels. He’s definitely a lap dog. He’ll sit in your lap.”
Jill Baskerville, an ESOL teacher at Beulah, said Rocky and Noble visit her students about every two weeks. The students take turns reading to him. Rocky and his owner work with first, second and fourth grade students, she said.
“This is a new thing that we’ve tried this year,” she said, after a fellow teacher, Robin Dougherty, learned about Rocky when Noble, a nurse, was at the school administering flu shots. The students were “all over the place” when he visited the first time, Baskerville said.
“They were very excited, and they still are,” she said. “They ask when he’s coming.”
Rocky’s presence “just gives these children encouragement to practice their fluency in English,” she said, since they can’t always practice at home.
“The children look forward to reading to him and watching him do his tricks,” Baskerville said, and having the opportunity to “just cuddle” the pooch. The students write notes to Rocky, as well, she said. “I think [the visits are] a good idea, though, especially when the children see that someone cares enough to want to help them.”
Rocky also visits the school’s special education pre-school class, Baskerville said. Early childhood special education teacher Jennifer Marshall said her students love Rocky.
“Everybody kind of calms down when he comes,” Marshall said, and the students love talking about how big he is and what he feels like.
Rocky’s been through lots of training, and he has lots of training to go, Noble said. He’s also visited Lucy Corr Village and Dunlop House, she said.
“We have fun,” she said. “We love doing this. He loves it.”