Alabaster schools get new 4-legged employee

Meadow View Elementary School student Jaxon Bearden holds Alabaster City Schools' newest employee, Warrior, during an Oct. 16 school board meeting at the new Alabaster City Hall. (Reporter Photo/Neal Wagner)

Meadow View Elementary School student Jaxon Bearden holds Alabaster City Schools’ newest employee, Warrior, during an Oct. 16 school board meeting at the new Alabaster City Hall. (Reporter Photo/Neal Wagner)

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Nodding off during a job interview typically is frowned upon, but the Alabaster Board of Education was willing to make an exception for its new, four-legged employee.

“He’s had a busy day,” Alabaster Schools Student Services Coordinator Dorann Tanner said with a laugh as she held the tiny puppy.

During its Oct. 16 meeting, the School Board approved a pilot program in conjunction with the Birmingham-based Hand in Paw organization for the city’s schools.

Through the program, the school system will use the black and white Australian Sheppard “Warrior” – who is now only a few weeks old – to provide a wide range of programs to Alabaster students.

Warrior will take part in a reading program, in which the city’s younger students who are struggling with reading will be able to read to the dog.

“Kids find that non-threatening, and they love dogs,” said Tanner.

Warrior also will spend time with the city’s special-needs students, who will work on developing motor skills by brushing and playing with the dog, Tanner said.

At the Alabaster Alternative School, ACS will use Warrior as part of a program to teach at-risk kids the importance of empathy and anger management.

Warrior will spend time with the city’s third-through-fifth-graders through an anti-bullying program, Tanner said.

“We will show them how they don’t want to bully pets, and then translate that to not bullying people,” Tanner said. “They have found that dogs can reach kids in a way that normal counselors can’t.”

The dog will be cared for by Alabaster City Schools at-risk and Alternative School teacher Wendy McNish, Petsmart will provide obedience classes and a local veterinarian will donate most of Warrior’s health care needs.

Tanner and Alabaster School Superintendent Dr. Wayne Vickers said Hoover offers animal therapy classes, but no other school system in Alabama has a full-time animal available to take part in school programs.

“It will be another first for a school system in Alabama to have this opportunity available for our students,” Vickers said. “I think it will be a wonderful thing. I know it will be groundbreaking, and I know it will make a difference.”