VERONA — A therapy dog program, and students’ data safety amid use of digital technology, were among topics for the Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Board of Education this week.
Also addressed were progress made in a Professional Learning Plan program for educators and staff, and praise for a high school personal finance course. In the discussions as noted by the VVS school district:
• A presentation on social-emotional learning and the introduction of therapy dogs was offered by district Director of Pupil Services and Personnel Development Erin Tiffany and high school social worker Brandy-Lee Lappin. Lappin will be purchasing and training a hypo-allergenic puppy to become a therapy dog at VVS at no cost to the district. The therapy dog is proposed as a pilot program for pre-K to grade 12 over the next two years, the district said.
“The state is already addressing that fact that mental health issues are impacting our students. Social media is changing the landscape of education,” said Lappin. “It changes our learning and our interaction with peers. It’s uncharted territory; some of the research coming out is showing that it is having negative impacts on students in terms of anxiety and stress levels. This stress has effects on cognition, and can decrease brain function by more than 50%.”
Several districts have been introducing therapy dogs as stress relief and mental health support for students and staff, the VVS district said. It noted that according to research, therapy dogs have been shown to improve students’ reading skills, and even optimize executive functioning skills.
Barb Cittadino from Camden High School brought her therapy dog to the presentation and highlighted the program currently in place there, said the VVS district.
VVS district Superintendent Martha Group said “we appreciate Mrs. Lappin taking the initiative to expand our support for students and look forward to hearing more about this program and her contributions.”
• Legislation was addressed that was introduced in 2014 amid concerns over how vendors might use and store student data as students become more active with digital technology. Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Mark Wixson and Alana Boylan, the district’s Mohawk Valley Regional Instructional Center Instructional Technology Specialist, gave a presentation on Education Law 2D.
The legislation “covers students’ personally identifiable information as well as the APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) data for teachers and principals. It is about how we share student data with outside agencies, and how those outside agencies provide assurances about how they use and store that data,” Boylan said.
Wixson and Boylan reviewed the nine components of Education Law 2D: the protection of student personal information, cybersecurity framework, establishing parent complaint procedures, a parents’ bill of rights, third-party contracts, data security and privacy, incident reporting, employee training, and appointment of a data protection officer.
• For the VVS Professional Learning Plan, an associated team is currently focusing on strands involving safety, curriculum, technology and social-emotional learning. Over the past year it has completed all mandated state training in DASA (Dignity for All Students Act) and mental health, plus hosted several professional learning opportunities for faculty and staff, the district said.
The VVS school board voted to approve the Professional Learning Plan for the 2019-20 academic year.
• Student representative Allison Donnelly advocated for Personal Finance becoming a mandatory class for high school students.
“If I hadn’t taken that class, I don’t know that I would have made the decisions that were best for my education,” she said.
Group observed “part of the responsibility of the board is to set policy and they can prescribe our course of study, which can exceed the requirements of the state Education Department.” Board member Steve Adamkowski noted it is a critical part of a student’s education.