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It’s been a hard year for everyone, and teachers and young students have faced some of the toughest battles of all. One teacher in Seattle hoping to boost morale and engagement in her second-grade remote-learning class hit upon a winning solution: a class pet. A class dog, to be precise, who would join the children regularly in their digital classroom.

Enter Frenzy, a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy just three months old when she and owner Stacy Slade joined teacher Christine Lackie’s classroom.

Helping Teachers and Children Find the Positive in the Pandemic

It might not be anybody’s idea of a good time, but Lackie recognized that the pandemic presented an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade, and boost her class’s social-emotional learning in the process.

She wanted to find a way to say, “This kind of stinks, this isn’t how we want to be in class together, but how can we turn it into a positive?” she explained. “How can we turn it into something we look forward to, even though it’s not ideal?”

When her students grew attached to a recording of a fish she happened to play at the start of some schooldays, the idea of a class pet was born. Under normal circumstances, a pet would be out of the question, but the remote learning setup made it possible to bring a dog into the fold, albeit digitally.

So Lackie reached out to childhood friend Stacy Slade, a registered Bernese Mountain Dog breeder and AKC competitor. The timing was perfect: Slade was in the process of training three-month-old puppy Frenzy.

She was delighted to help. “Teachers are working double time during this time,” Slade said. “They’re working way more hours trying to figure out how to teach on a different platform, and it’s stressful. I’m happy to make something easier for someone in all of this. The thing that’s been important for me in all this is: How can I help others with what skills I happen to have?”

The answer to that last question is: through a weekly video that updates students on Frenzy’s growth, training progress, and activities over the previous week, plus monthly live appearances in classrooms.

Yes: classrooms, plural. Frenzy has been such a hit with students that she’s now the class pet for several classes at Cedar Park Elementary, as well as schools in Alaska, Texas, and Washington DC.

Stacy and Frenzy. Photo by Gabby Wright


The Puppy Who Made Learning Fun Again

At just a few months old, Frenzy is in the midst of the training process. By illustrating Frenzy’s learning journey, Slade hopes to help children get the most from their own. Weekly videos emphasize that, for instance, learning is a gradual process, and the key to learning anything new is to practice. Through watching Frenzy master skills over the course of weeks and months, the children have gained confidence in their own learning.

And students at Cedar Park Elementary now often find Frenzy popping up in other lessons, too. “It’s been really fun to incorporate it into, for instance, our math word problems,” Lackie said. “Like: ‘Frenzy has sixteen treats but her sister Hazy ate half of them. How many are left?'” What could be better than an adorable puppy to make math problems more palatable?

Lackie is also encouraging her students to think about passion projects, using Frenzy as an example of Slade’s passion project. Inspired by Slade, the children in Lackie’s class are now making videos of the things they’re most interested in. By bringing these passions into the classroom, learning becomes more appealing and fun.

For her part, one of Slade’s main passions is for teaching the students about responsible pet ownership. “I’m trying to do it in a way that teaches the kids about what responsibilities a puppy comes with, and that she can be naughty and she does things and I have to train her not to,” she says. She also includes information on grooming, socialization, and other aspects of pet care. In return, students ask her questions or tell stories about their own dogs.

Frenzy and friend

Frenzy’s Fans Spread Far and Wide

Aside from spreading through multiple classrooms and even states, Frenzy’s fame is rising in Seattle households, too. “One of the neatest things is, I’ll start playing the video, and… all of a sudden I see parents come into the screen, and siblings,” Lackie says. “They hear the song and they’re like, ‘Frenzy!'”

Teachers anywhere in the world can bring Frenzy’s friendship into their classrooms (and their students’ households!) by adopting Frenzy as a pet, via the weekly updates on Slade’s YouTube channel. All videos in the “My Friend Frenzy” series can be found and downloaded for use in digital classrooms. And if students have questions for Frenzy, teachers can send them to Stacy via her YouTube channel.

Times are hard, but this pup and her owner just want to help.

Related article: COVID-19 and Dogs Sleep: Pandemic Routines Could be Stressing Canines Out
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