There’s only one female student at Franklin Boys Preparatory Academy, and she has four legs.
Meet Frankie, a black labrador puppy that AVID teacher Cheryl Poage and her students are fostering this year at the East Tampa middle school.
“I brought the dog into the classroom as part of community service to give students the chance to see what it’s like to give back,” Poage said. “Our job is to give basic commands and socialization.”
Poage coordinates with Paws for Patriots, an outreach program of Southeastern Guide Dogs. Her first foster pup, Georgie, spent much of last school year at the school before “graduating” to Southeastern at the start of this school year.
Frankie (formal name actually Franklin) arrived about a month ago. She lives with the Poage family but spends much of her time on campus or at school events. The veteran teacher said there’s a strong bond between the boys and the dogs.
“You’ve got a lot going on with middle schoolers, a lot going on with those puppies,” Poage said. You’re kind of always all over the place … but it was probably the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done. To watch these boys love and care for something and watch it grow … when we gave Georgie away, it was emotional for all of us. I watched a lot of boys show their heart and show their emotion, and that was good for all of us.”
Students learn how to be responsible for the dog, of course, but there’s a larger lesson afoot. After the dogs leave their foster families, they are trained to become guide, service, facility therapy or emotional support dogs, depending on how well training goes.
“We’re giving someone back their life,” Poage said. “I’ve been able to hear three different people talk about how they lost their life when they lost their vision.”
In the classroom, sometimes a little extra effort is required to make sure the typically rambunctious puppy doesn’t become the center of the class. Still, her presence helps.
“It really does help some of the students who don’t have a focus,” Poage said. “They might sit on the back on the floor and do their work and pet Frankie.”
The dogs have also triggered ideas for service-learning projects, including plans to construct a pet-relief area at the airport, water stations in Brandon and fund-raising efforts to benefit Southeastern.
Eighth-grader Daktari, who was largely responsible for taking care of Frankie at a recent magnet school recruiting event (perhaps you already met Frankie on our Facebook Live?) said having the animals help instill a sense of pride at the school. They also helped him overcome a fear of dogs.
“Having a dog makes us feel very special and makes us feel good,” he said.