Oria – the canine K. Smith School student (Part 1) by Jill Leipelt


This year first and second graders welcomed a new student into their classroom. It was a classmate like none they had had before. During the summer, I had begun transitioning Oria into the classroom before the students arrived. Oria made herself at home almost immediately by curling up in a cubby and going to sleep. Yes, she had a cubby too… until she outgrew it. Now, she prefers the “flexible seating” under the lego table.

oria table.png

Oria is an assistance dog in training for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). CCI provides highly trained assistance dogs for people with disabilities. This non-profit organization provides these dogs free of charge and depends on volunteer breeders and puppy raisers who will socialize and obedience train the puppies until they are ready to be turned in for six months of advanced training.

As a puppy raiser, it is my job to ensure that Oria learns her basic obedience commands. More importantly, it is vital that these puppies are well socialized at an early age. Children, adults, noises, crowds, public transportation, elevators and restaurants are just some of the experiences which Oria will be exposed to before her turn in. This includes coming with me to work daily in my first/second grade classroom.

oria buddies.pngOria resides in her crate or on a mat during the day, but most often will be found with the students during the school day. They love to read to her. She listens and she doesn’t judge them. What better way for an emerging reader to practice their reading fluency?

Oria staff.png

Oria has been welcomed by the staff as well. She brings instant smiles to their faces and provides what I call “pet therapy” to weary and exhausted educators at the end of the day. She joins our weekly staff meetings and even our closing circles to be part of the group. Oria even has her own i.d. card.

Oria college day.png

Today was College Day. Students at Katherine Smith celebrated being college bound students. Our class has adopted the University of Hawaii. We wore leis. So did Oria. She celebrated along with them too as she knows she will one day go to “puppy college” or advanced training. I expect great things from her, just as I expect from my students. As we say here at Katherine Smith, “And, we always know that we are college bound- No Excuses!”

Stay tuned for part 2 of Oria’s adventures as she experiences many “firsts” with her first and second grade class.




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