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A 4-legged faculty member lends helping ‘paw’ to students with special needs as they learn virtually

For some San Diego students who have learning challenges, a dog is exactly what they need to help them learn on-line.

SAN DIEGO — It is safe to say Barley is "paws down" the most popular staff member at the Sierra School of San Diego, a school for those with special needs.

He has transitioned his services on-line to help students stay focused during virtual learning.

 "He's just so cute and he helps me virtually feel calm when I'm looking at him," said Annalise, a student at Sierra School of San Diego

Trainers spent several years teaching the 8-year-old black lab how to empower children and young adults who have a variety of emotional and physical challenges.

His caregiver happens to be the registered occupational therapist at the school.

"Our students have difficulty maintaining focus on what they need to do and maintaining some emotional stability and regulation to be able to learn effectively and Barley has always been a tool to help with that," said Erin Schwier, occupational therapist. 

Barley has worked at the Sierra School of San Diego for five years helping students reach their learning goals.

Overall, his unconditional love and good sense of humor gives these students the motivation to tackle their challenges and the confidence to know they can succeed in school. 

 "They are able to support Barley and give Barley commands. It gives them a sense of control and independence that they're looking for," said Schwier.

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