When you walked into Eugene Field a friendly face with four legs will greet you. He's the newest staff member at the school and he just happens to be a 1-year-old goldendoodle named Sam.
Sam is a certified therapy dog. He's in the building every other day. On the days he's not there he's absence is definitely noticed.
"Students will come up to me and ask me 'Where's Sam?' said Michelle Schneckloth, the school counselor.
Mrs. Schneckloth had the idea to get the school a therapy dog. Therapy dogs are commonly used to support children in addressing their social and emotional learning needs in school.
"I noticed after COVID, especially with the younger students, they were having a really hard time interacting with people," said Mrs.Schneckloth.
She adopted Sam when he was a puppy with the Intent to have him become a therapy dog. There's a lengthy process to do so. Mrs. Schneckloth had to fill out a form from the Illinois State Board of Education and the Superintendent had to sign off on it.
From there, to become certified, Sam had to undergo extensive training and tests. Sam went through five weeks of training, then had to have a temperament screening to make sure he had the right temperament for a therapy dog, followed by another six weeks of advanced training, then he had to go through a test, and will continue to have ongoing therapy training as long as he's a therapy dog.
Once he became certified, Mrs. Schneckloth sent out an opt-out form to parents, giving them the choice to choose if they didn't want Sam around their child.
Sam started going to Eugene Field in April of 2022 and to say the response from students and staff has been great is an understatement.
"It's hard to see him and not smile and be happy," said Mrs. Schneckloth.
Mrs.Schneckloth says his presence has made a difference, especially in the students who may struggle more socially.
"It's easier for students to open up more to a dog than a person. They're great listeners, there's no judgment and they help build trust," said Mrs. Schneckloth.
While Sam might be helping students, it's not a bad deal for him either, he gets all the belly rubs he wants.
Sam has helped students make friends as well. Mrs. Schneckloth says if there's a student who normally isolates themselves at lunch, she will let them be Sam's handler at recess and students will come up to the student and talk with them and Sam and it has helped students be more social.
"You might try and teach students something and they just don't get it but when you relate it to Sam, it just clicks for them," said Mrs. Schneckloth.
Sam has become the unofficial mascot of Eugene Field, he will even have his photo in the yearbook.
Students are excited to go to school and see Sam and Sam is just as excited.