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POPLAR RIDGE — The top dog on campus in Emily Howland Elementary School is a standard poodle named Archer.

Students and staff alike at the Poplar Ridge school often stopped Thursday morning to pet or greet the dog as he silently walked through the hallways, a tennis ball planted firmly in his jaw.

Archer made his way through the school calmly, stopping briefly in classrooms where he was met with smiles and cries of "Hi, Archer!" before moving on. With his straight posture and measured movement, the dog gave the impression he was "on duty," as if visiting classes and receiving scratches on his head from eager students were part of his everyday duties.

Close by Archer was his owner, school Principal Chris Clapper. Clapper said his furry hall monitor has been operating as a certified therapy dog to comfort students for about three years. 

The dog's involvement in the school, Clapper said, came from concerns about student behavior. The educator read an article about dogs curbing discipline issues, so he got Archer, whom he has owned for around seven years, certified as a therapy dog. Southern Cayuga Junior/Senior High School, which is in the same building as the elementary school, has its own four-legged friend: Hops, a golden retriever owned by the district's athletic director, Cathy Haight.

Clapper said students "have an instant connection" with Archer. Greeting students every school day morning with Archer — sometimes paired with gentle reminders for students to go to class — helps create an atmosphere that puts people at ease. The principal added that students are sometimes quicker to say hello to the dog than to him.

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Archer, a 7-year-old standard poodle, is a big hit among the students and staff at Emily Howland Elementary School in Poplar Ridge. Archer spends his days at the school as a therapy dog as well as a member of the school community.

In addition to greeting students with Clapper, Archer is often used as an incentive for them. In exchange for sitting quietly in their seats or being engaged in class, children are given a few minutes of one-on-one time with the dog. The principal recalled a student climbing into Archer's dog bed with him last year, and the two napping together for a few minutes. 

Clapper believes Archer's presence has helped quell behavior problems, as he has seen the student referral rate drop over the last few years. While he thinks the efforts of staff have contributed to the decline, he thinks the dog has helped immensely.

School counselor Mark Johnson said Archer has been a tremendous addition to the school. Johnson believes seeing the canine interact with people subtly reinforces the importance of kindness for students and the importance of treating animals humanely.

Johnson said that last year, 10 students who were not responding as well to other behavior strategies simply couldn't help but relax and let their guard down around the poodle.

"Archer makes you know you're important," Johnson said.

Haight, who is also the junior/senior high school's assistant principal in addition to the district's athletic director, said her golden retriever, Hops, has also had a calming affect on students. While Haight is still in the process of getting Hops fully certified as a therapy dog, she believes the dog has been helping students behave and making them more comfortable.

"She knows when kids are upset or agitated and she wants to be right next to them," Haight said.​

Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.


Education Reporter