HANCEVILLE, Ala. – Students, faculty and staff at Hanceville Elementary School were treated to a surprise Monday when Service Dogs Alabama visited the school to deliver a new facility service dog. Ghost will join the students on campus each day to provide comfort and assistance.
The students were previously informed about a new faculty member, but not told that they would be getting a new service dog.
The students assembled in the elementary gymnasium, separated into their “families” of Honor, Loyalty, Integrity, Resilience, Character and Respect, encouraged through the districtwide families initiative begun earlier this year. The initiative’s goal is to promote school connectedness. Each group has also adopted its own community service learning projects.
Hanceville Elementary Principal Stacie Olinger informed the students that their new faculty member had the qualities and requirements needed to be a member of their “secret service” family.
She said, “Our new faculty member has had extensive training- two years’ worth of training. We will have a resume posted soon on our website. He’s had many past missions he has completed. His family history- he is unmarried, he has no children; however, his parents were both in the service, as well as his three brothers.”
Olinger opened the floor for a motion to accept the new “agent,” Ghost, a 4-year-old Labrador Retriever, who the students unanimously approved.
Ghost was welcomed to pick one of six bins representing one of the family initiatives. He gave a nod to handler Jessica Reeves next to the Character bin, selecting that family and causing a chorus of cheers from the group ready to welcome him.
Reeves, a counselor, will be Ghost’s primary handler, along with special education teacher Kim Warren.
Reeves spoke to the students about how they will need to behave around Ghost and what to expect from him. “His job here at school is to help you guys be successful. He may be doing that by letting somebody pet him who is having a bad morning; he may do that by laying on somebody’s feet who is really nervous about a test. Your duties for how to take care of Ghost are pretty simple: you’re going to love on him, you’re going to be good to him, but you’re also going to understand that he has a job to do.”
Ghost will be living with Reeves, who said he is “very well behaved.”
He will make classroom visits, but teachers will also have radios they can use to request his presence when a child needs him.
Cullman County Schools Mental Health Services Coordinator Karen Pinion said the school has had five applications on file with Service Dogs Alabama and has been waiting for three years to get their own dog.
“The (Alabama) State Department (of Education) recognizes them and cuts the grant funding for these dogs to be in schools, so this has been a long process,” she said. “They are trained in women’s prison facilities, so when COVID happened, dogs couldn’t go in and they can’t come out, so its typically not this long of a wait.”
Reeves and Warren have trained for five days to catch up with the training Ghost has received for two years. Pinion said that Ghost will likely be working at the school for the next six years.
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