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Teacher's Pet: Rudy the therapy dog is 'Mr. Popular'
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Alana Blessing, Family Support Worker at Park Elementary School, introduces Rudy to the Great Bend USD 428 Board of Education, Thursday at the school. Rudy, a golden retriever, is a trained therapy dog. - photo by Susan Thacker

Alana Blessing at Park Elementary School can be forgiven if she admits to having a “teacher’s pet.” Rudy, a golden retriever trained as a therapy dog, is known as “Mr. Popular” with the teachers, administrators and students.

Rudy was on the agenda for the final presentation at Thursday’s school board meeting, which was held at Park Elementary’s library. Shortly before it was time to present him, the dog entered the library carrying two favorite toys: a stuffed dog and a stuffed moose. He walked to a row of students in the Leadership Club who were there to meet the board members.

“I took Rudy to Valley Center for a six-week training program,” Blessing said. “He completed it in two.”

After Rudy became a certified therapy dog, Blessing brought him to school on a leash. But it soon became apparent that he was comfortable around students and could be allowed more freedom.

“He’s been a good friend to a lot of these kids,” Blessing said. “In the morning he is there to greet the students.”

Rudy can have a calming influence, Blessing said. When the Department for Children and Families came to the school to interview a student, Blessing wasn’t allowed to sit in on the meeting. “Rudy sat with her,” she said.

Park Elementary Principal Phil Heeke has been accused of spoiling Rudy and allows the dog to take naps in his office. If the dog is wanted in the office, they just page him on the intercom.

Even though Rudy is a beloved member of Park School, the work of a therapy dog is stressful, Blessing said. She learned that after he spent a full day meeting strangers during parent-teacher conferences last fall. With his senses overloaded, the dog had a seizure. Two weeks ago he had another stressful day when he visited Jefferson Elementary School for Reading Night. Although he came through that OK, the staff concluded that he is happiest when he’s at Park School, where everything smells familiar.

He’s also a star on the school Facebook page, Heeke said. Any time they post Rudy’s photo, the page gets extra hits.

Student success

Rudy didn’t get all of the attention Thursday. Park students attended the meeting and interacted with the school board by leading an ice breaker activity. The school Leadership Club was introduced and the board learned about recent student successes, a reading contest and a new “Tiger TV” program students are producing.

Four Park sixth graders also traveled to Topeka last month to serve as pages for Rep. Tory Arnberger at the Capitol. They met Gov. Laura Kelly and climbed the 296 steps to the top of the dome. The Park School Multi-Media Club and Drone Club put together a video which can be found on the school’s Facebook page.

Personnel changes

In action items Thursday, the school board approved the following teacher appointments for next year:

• Grant Mathews, band director at Great Bend High School

• Brittany Leathers, seventh-grade social studies teacher at Great Bend Middle School

• Kerrigan Travens, first-grade teacher at Eisenhower Elementary School

• Nicole Bieker, fifth-grade teacher at Park Elementary School

• Cristina Ingram, Spanish teacher at GBHS (Transition to teaching)

The board approved the following resignations:

• Zusseth Pinillo, Spanish teacher at GBHS

• Madison Ragar, special education teacher at Barton County Special Services

• Joshua Allman, eighth-grade math teacher at GBMS

• Kyle Vierra, fourth-grade teacher at Park Elementary.

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Three Park Elementary students welcome the school board and open the meeting with an ice breaker activity.
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Student leaders at Park Elementary are introduced to the school board.