A Fair Shake for Youth works with middle school youth, aged 11-14, in partnerships with public schools and community organizations in the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Programs are scheduled primarily during the school day. A limited number of shorter programs may be scheduled in the evening or on weekends.
Each week for 10 weeks a Fair Shake instructor and three therapy dog teams work with a group of 12 students. Following a structured curriculum, participants learn to work with the dogs and discuss dog-related topics. Students practice giving basic commands, teach tricks, challenge the dogs with cognition games and introduce them to agility -- encouraging the dogs through a tunnel or over a jump.
While the dogs take a break, discussion turns to animal shelters and second chances, or breed discrimination -- topics that often resonate with the youth's own experience. "Has anyone judged you by the way you look?"
As the kids work with the dogs they experience how praise inspires both the dogs and themselves, see the power of both verbal and non-verbal communication, and see firsthand how kindness and respect build strong caring relationships.
As the dogs succeed, the kids succeed. The child who feels left out feels loved and accepted; the one who struggles in the classroom realizes he is smart. The shy student takes responsibility for filling the water bowl and becomes a leader. Across boroughs and neighborhoods, kids tell us that they are "surprised the dogs liked me", and "surprised the dogs listened to me."
Formal program effectiveness is measured through pre- and post-program surveys and interviews with students and school professionals, including principals, social workers, guidance counselors and teachers.
School staff share that certain students only come to school on the day the dogs are coming or that the day that the dogs are coming, students who struggle to control emotions or behavior are able to refocus their attention on anticipating the dog program. Often a child that is disruptive in class or likely to storm out is able to focus and excel.
Learned something they can use in their everyday life
Felt more confident while working with the dogs
Working with others was easier in Fair Shake than in class
"The kids were excited to participate - when middle school kids ask for more of something you know it's making an impact."
- Ms Hasty, Principal PS 57
“If I had dogs in school every day I wouldn't have an attendance problem. Carlos only came to school on Mondays because of the dogs."
- Taeko Onishi, K586 Brooklyn
“The dogs level the playing field. Kids that don’t succeed in the classroom were more confident and had a chance to be leaders."
- Michael, Teacher M225
"Not only do you learn how to interact with other dogs -- you learn to interact with people and you learn a little bit about yourself."
- Lia, MS 424