By the numbers

A researcher from the University of South Carolina College of Social Work conducted a study that found that among students who participated in the program:Out-of-school suspensions for violent behavior went down 55 percent.General aggression, retaliation aggression, and total aggression combined decreased by 62 percent.Choice making using empathy increased by 42 percent.Teachers rated students’ display of violence to decrease by 66 percent.Source: Healing Species

The students in Angela Stringer’s class at Chicora School of Communications listen intently to the lesson, only occasionally glancing toward the back of the room.

There, 2½-year-old Sadie, a yellow Labrador-Italian greyhound mix, lies on the floor, chewing a bone under the watchful eye of her owner, Nadeije Ahearn.

The students are eager to hug and pet the pup, but they know that after their lesson they will get time with her.

It’s part of Healing Species, an Orangeburg-based program that expanded this year into the Lowcountry. It is an 11-week evidence-based character education program that aims to reduce aggression and bullying and increase empathy in the classroom through visits from rescue dogs like Sadie.

“I like when Sadie comes into the classroom,” said fourth-grader Arionna Settles. “She always licks me, and she’s fun to pet.”

The program is offered to fourth-graders through Trident United Ways’ Links to Success program, which creates community learning centers in historically high-poverty, low-performing schools.

The semester-long program also started this fall at Harleyville-Ridgeville Elementary in Dorchester District 4, and it will be added in January at Jane Simmons Elementary in North Charleston and St. Stephens Elementary School in Berkeley County.

Program Director Adele Little said she hopes to expand to all 11 schools in the Links to Success program.

“We are so excited about the opportunity for Healing Species to reach more kids in more areas,” she said.

Brian Agnew, who is in his first year as principal at Chicora, said he has seen positive results from the program.

“The kids seem to settle some things on their own,” he said. “A couple have even talked to me and said that they wanted to do some conflict resolution, and we’ve actually had a couple of parents call up and brag on the program, saying how happy they were with it and that their kids came home talking about it.”

The program is funded locally by a matching-fund grant through Trident United Way that lasts through 2015. Communities in Schools and the Dorchester Children’s Center have also been instrumental in bringing the program to the Lowcountry.

Healing Species was founded in 2000 by Cheri Brown Thompson, a lawyer who noted a link between violence toward animals and violent crime in society.

The award-winning program is currently in several schools in the Orangeburg and Columbia area, and is also used at Perry Correctional Institute in Pelzer as part of its Healing Dog program.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or www.facebook.com/brindge.