The Maspeth High School community is excited to share that Eli, a 4-year-old rescue border collie mix, has joined the MHS faculty and school social worker David Blauner as a certified therapy dog team.

As part of the Department of Education’s Comfort Dog Program, they will be responsible for fostering a supportive and welcoming environment for the many students that have been out of consistent in-person school for almost 18 months.

Assistant Principal Jesse Pachter noted, “A lot of students have shown they’re anxious, they’re feeling depressed, they’re feeling lonely, and we’re hoping that by coming back to school full-time next year and bringing Eli on board, will be a positive impact to help these students work through social and emotional problems.”

With no direct correlation between symptoms of depression and academic performance, building personal relationships between school staff and students is paramount. Eli will be instrumental in this process.

David Blauner adopted Eli when he was 8 weeks old and due to his gentle and nurturing temperament, knew he would be a great fit as a comfort dog. Blauner and Eli were trained and certified by the Good Dog Foundation, which teaches dogs and handlers how to appropriately implement Animal Assisted Interventions.

MHS students who will be returning to school full-time this September after so many challenging months of pandemic-induced school closures and social isolation have mixed feelings. “It’s been a while so there’s a chance we’ve changed as people,” says Amy, a rising senior, who is just happy to be around people her age again at school. Her excitement is tempered with nervousness as she notes, “We may not connect anymore” after so much time away from each other. Dazzling, a rising junior, believes it will likely be “really nerve-wrack- ing at the beginning for a 9th grade student who hasn’t been in a school building” since March of 2020 and will also be facing the angst of starting at a new school.

Blauner knows the positive impacts that Eli can have on the school community as a whole. “I’m thinking about the ninth-grader that comes into our school in September, who has not been in a school building for 18 month and has not felt a positive connection with a trusted adult in their life outside of their family,” he says. Attending school 3 times per week, Eli will assist in building socialization skills and confidence among a school population that will benefit from his presence more than ever.

“If I were really anxious about start- ing at a new school and I saw Eli on my first day, it would help me to feel like I was at home,” said Sasha, a rising junior, adding, “I have a dog and know how loyal they are and how they bring people happiness and comfort.” Mr. Pachter echoes this student’s enthusiasm, adding, “We are very optimistic about the upcoming school year and hope that students will walk through the doors of Maspeth High School and smile when greeted by faculty, especially our newest member, Eli.”