SUDBURY — Four hours into her first shift, the newest member of the Peter Noyes Elementary School staff had already made an immeasurable impact and could be found taking a quick, well-deserved nap under Assistant Principal Kristin Moffat’s desk.
Sophie, a 21-month-old Black Lab, started at Noyes School as a classroom assistance dog on Tuesday, March 23. She had gone through 21 months of training through the NEADS Service Dogs program before she was matched with Moffat a month ago. NEADS Service Dogs, based in Princeton, Mass., has trained over 1,900 service dog teams since its founding in 1976, including assistance dogs like Sophie, as well as service dogs for veterans; those who are deaf or have hearing loss; adults or children with physical disabilities; and children with autism.
As the classroom assistance dog, Sophie will help support the educational, social and emotional needs of students in the school. She’s trained to perform a myriad of tasks, including helping to turn a page in a book, flipping a light switch and fetching items. She also works as a social conduit for students, helping them to feel more comfortable with each other through games of ball and similar activities.
Sophie will permanently work with Moffat, who went through a handler training herself earlier this month, for the duration of her career. Students will be able to use “Sophie Cents” to earn time with her and Moffat will also work with teachers to determine ways to bring Sophie into the classroom to help facilitate learning.
By midday on Tuesday, Sophie had already had two kindergarten students read to her, spent time with a fifth grade class for recess and received countless pets from students, staff and teachers.
“We will primarily use her in a situation where we are trying to incentivize students,” Moffat said. “She has already made a huge difference and it is only going to get better from here.”
Moffat first learned about the program in 2010. The local Veteran’s Association purchased the naming rights for Noyes School students to name the NEADS dog who would ultimately be placed at Burlington High School. The Association chose Noyes School to honor U.S. Army 1st Lt. Scott Milley, who died in Afghanistan in 2010 and was an alumnus of the school.
The dog, another Black Lab who the students named Scooter, came to visit Noyes School students with Lt. Milley’s family shortly after he began working at the high school. After seeing the way students responded to Scooter, Moffat knew this program was something their school would also benefit from having an assistance dog.
Over the last 19 months, Moffat and others at the school have worked to make this a reality, including holding a fundraiser in January 2020 that raised over $10,000 in one week. For 15 minutes each morning, students would add money to the jugs placed outside of their classroom door to try to get the most points by the end of the week in order to win extra recess time. Since coins were positive points and bills were negative points, the fundraiser also served as an opportunity for students to practice their math skills.
The Noyes School Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) also played a significant role in helping bring Sophie to the school. Prior to Sophie’s arrival, the PTO gifted students in preschool through first grade stuffed Sophie dolls so they could practice working with her.
“The PTO has been overwhelmingly supportive,” Moffat said. “I couldn’t have done it without them. They are just as excited about her as we are.”
“Sophie will be a huge benefit for some of the youngest students in the district and it’s easy to see she’s already made a significant impact in just a day,” Superintendent Brad Crozier said. “Thank you to Assistant Principal Moffat and everyone who helped to make this a reality. I could not be prouder of all that they have done and for the support we have received from the start.”
Those interested in seeing Sophie’s work at the school can follow her Instagram, @SophieMakesNoyes.