Recently, Princeton Day School alumna Katie Gibson '11 returned for a virtual visit with the PDS Third Grade class taught by her mother, Margie Wallace Gibson '84. In addition to teaching, Mrs. Gibson is the Director of Service Learning at PDS, and invited Katie to raise awareness about the service value of therapy dogs, how they are trained and what they do in their service role.
Volunteering and participating in service opportunities is something that is instilled in the Gibson family. For Katie, the desire to serve dates back to her time at PDS, when as an Upper School student she helped younger students in the Teaching Assistant program, volunteered as a tutor for HomeFront and worked at the Ropes Course Camp.
"Education has always been a passion of mine and I've always incorporated education together with volunteering and service. While my career path has taken me away from the educational space, I have found that volunteering is a great way to stay connected to my passion," Katie shared. Katie and her three siblings routinely return to the "3GIB" classroom to meet with students.
This time, Katie's certified therapy dog, Ogden, joined the class and became an instant star as Katie shared about her life with Ogden and how both of them learned new things together through their partnership. Three years ago, while living in Denver, Katie rescued Ogden as a puppy.
"From the start, I knew I was interested in volunteering with him so I looked into official therapy dog certification programs. Ogden is a love and brings me and so many others such joy; I wanted to find a way to do it in an official capacity and reach more people who might need the support," she explained.
Katie taught herself how to train a dog for therapy service, then trained Ogden with the goal of earning certification as a therapy dog team. Last month, after training since he was six months old, Ogden received his certification. He and Katie now will be able to work more specifically with schools, hospitals and other organizations in California, where they currently live. One program that is particularly intriguing to Katie is the "Read With Me" program, which pairs students with therapy animals in order to help build literacy skills.
During her visit with the PDS third graders, Katie explained the differences between emotional support animals, therapy animals and service animals, and the type of service Ogden can provide as a therapy dog. Katie and Ogden also demonstrated training exercises, including a number of the vocal and hand commands that he has learned. Students asked many questions pertaining to Ogden's training and commands during an extended Q&A.
As a final activity during the Zoom session, the third graders collectively read to Ogden, which was a beneficial extension of Ogden's training. "All of Ogden's training thus far has been in-person. Because so many learning experiences are remote, it is important for him to also be able to participate virtually," Katie noted.
"Katie and Ogden's visit with my class dovetails nicely with our service learning mission to think about service of all kinds. This may be the first exposure for my third graders to the world of therapy animals. If I can open their eyes to additional opportunities for making a difference in the world, I always grab the chance. This was clearly one of those chances," Mrs. Gibson observed.
Photo: Screenshot of Katie Gibson and Ogden during the ZOOM class session.