NEW YORK - It's professional development for puppies. Or as some in the city Department of Education call it, Pre-K-9 for All.
A playful pup named MuShu is part of the DOE's growing Comfort Dog program, which places pooches alongside pupils in 55 public schools. Another 300 schools have expressed interested in adding a furry friend.
"You need to have a dog that is predictable, controllable and reliable at all times," said Kirsten Kinsella, Educational Administrator for the Comfort Dog Program.
It's Kinsella's job to help make sure that happens with lots of training for these, um, scholars in collars and for the school staffers caring for them.
“Training never ends, just like learning never ends with the students," Kinsella said.
The comfort dog program began six years ago, mainly to provide students emotional support and make them more engaged in their studies.
"In my school he makes it a place that kids want to be, he makes it a place that my staff wants to be, he makes it a place that I want to be," said Philip Hammack, assistant principal at Bronx Park Middle.
At Bronx Park Middle, Kinsella recently trained teachers and students in how to use the comfort dogs in their classes.
A Wheaton Terrier named Rocky can roll dice so that a teacher can use the numbers in math questions, or use his paws to highlight a multiple choice answer.
Another dog named Delight can gently remove game pieces.
All that training leads to a dog like Cypress, who works at P.S. 81 in Queens, helping students learn new vocabulary words during speech therapy.
"The way he helps me is his movement, and his cuteness. He's so fluffy and very comfy. I really like him, and love him," said Jacob Wright, a fifth grader.
Cypress also offers a listening ear—and no judgment—as students read aloud.
"When I get to work with Cypress, he helps me to be calm, and to focus," said Julio Avilino, a fifth grader.
"We've had students in the past who have come to this school and have not said a word in the school setting -- but who spoke their first words to Cypress," said Roseann Mascia, a speech language pathologist.
“I had a kid last year who was upset during the state test and she couldn’t focus, she was going to give up. And Lady sat on her lap and she finished the state test," said Liann Palmieri, a school counselor at P.S. 22.
It looks like comfort dogs are helping students unleash their potential.