Passionate educators are willing to do just about anything to foster student success. Just ask Kevin Duh, a social studies teacher at South Pointe Middle School in Diamond Bar.
The out-of-the-box thinking educator has found a way to combine his desire to address the emotional needs of his eighth grade students with his love of dogs.
This year, Duh was granted permission to bring a 3-month old puppy named Laker to his class as an official therapy dog-in-training.
Since the first day of school in August, the lovable Goldendoodle, Laker, has been at Duh’s side at all times during the school day.
“I take him wherever I go because I want him to understand the dynamics of the campus,” he said. “He’s like my shadow.”
Duh, who has been teaching for six years, said he chose the popular hybrid dog for several reasons.
“Laker has the intelligence and hypo-allergenic qualities of a poodle, friendliness of a golden retriever, and people aren’t afraid of him,” he said. “Already, two of my students have gotten over their fear of dogs.”
Laker, who is now eight months old, has proven himself as a source of unconditional love to the young teens.
“This year, the kids seem much happier in the classroom,” Duh said.
Duh’s 160 students quickly developed a wonderful relationship with the gregarious and playful pup.
“I think he brightens our class up,” said student Katie Song. “Sometimes when we’re feeling stressed, he’s just always there for us.”
“He helps us feel better to just reach down and pet him during the day,” said student Kris Ng.
More than that, Laker is a comforting resource for students having a bad day or going through tough times with family issues.
“I know there’s a lot of brokenness in our community. He just brings a light into that,” Duh said. “Laker provides a place where students can drop their anxieties on him.”
Duh has indications that his dog has aided three students with testing anxiety during his short time on campus.
“For example, one student had a 65 percent average and I suggested he take Laker with him for his next test,” he explains.
“Within a couple weeks his scores went up to 84 percent. It’s a huge jump.”
Laker has provided dozens of students with comfort by being a furry companion.
“I love Laker, he’s my best friend,” said student Kristin Joe, who doesn’t have a dog at home.
“(Laker is) very playful, loving, likes to be petted and be in constant contact with people,” Duh said. “For some reason, he has an instinct that when I’m teaching or doing something important, he holds off his energy.”
Duh admits that animals in school settings haven’t traditionally mixed, and with a dog, it’s a “Goliath” of a responsibility. But this teacher is very dedicated to constantly making sure the dog is well-taken care of and that students wash their hands after they pet him. He also carves out time each day to “run out” Laker’s puppy energy.
“There’s a huge time commitment – it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be,” Duh said.
The adorable curly-haired pup was even introduced as a new staff member during a Board Meeting, took an official school ID photo, and has hundreds of Instagram followers @lakerthegoldendoodle.
Laker will take the test to become a certified therapy dog this summer when he reaches his first birthday. Once Laker passes the test, the school plans to integrate the therapy dog into its social-emotional wellness program, according to Principal Susan Arzola.
The school’s Community Club provides support by funding the puppy’s training classes and insurance.
“We are all cheering on Laker to make sure he passes all his classes,” Arzola said.
“This year, he’s a cute puppy. Next year, I want him to be a schoolwide resource,” adds Duh. “I would also love to see this program grow throughout our district and for a therapy dog to be at every site.”
For now, the puppy with a purpose will continue bringing joy to the students at South Pointe.
“Laker will be here with me as long as he’s able. It’s very exciting,” Duh said.