SALK MIDDLE SCHOOL
Learning Changes Lives
Superpower Dogs, Team Journalist
9 December 2016
In the halls of Salk Middle School with Olaf, the autism therapy dog.
There is a calming presence that roams the halls of Salk Middle School, a STEM-themed magnet school in the Elk River Area School District of central Minnesota. Here, young minds are put at ease and eager to learn whenever they encounter this special superpower hero.
Teachers and students alike know him as Olaf, yet he won’t be found seated behind a desk or reading a book in the library. If you want to spot this friendly face around Salk, just keep an eye out for four paws and a wagging tail.
Olaf the Autism Therapy Dog
Photograph by Owner Mary
That’s right, Olaf is a six year-old golden retriever, and he’s a specially trained therapy dog that works with students with developmental disabilities, autism, and anxiety. Olaf’s heroic super powers highlight the grand impact our four-legged friends can have on our schools and communities.
As the filming of Superpower Dogs gets underway, our mission is to raise awareness for the working dog community and dogs like Olaf who make our world, and Salk Middle School, a better place through emotional therapy and support.
Olaf first arrived at Salk Middle School in 2014, after teacher Mary Ostmoe began researching the potential positive impacts a therapy dog could have in her classroom.
Before being placed with Mary, Olaf underwent over 6 months of rigorous training with Pawsitivity, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in St. Paul, MN, dedicated to rescuing dogs and training them as service dogs for individuals with disabilities with a focus on children with autism. He was matched with Mary specifically for his superpower of gentle calmness, which has become an essential key to the supportive and safe environment fostered at the school.
From taking movement breaks and learning to care for an animal to learning the soothing comfort of having a loving, gentle fur friend. OLAF truly is a superpower dog.
Like any school, Salk’s students have a wide range of talents, abilities and backgrounds, each carrying their own unique set of needs. All of these youngsters learn in different styles, at different speeds, and under different circumstances, so Mary and her fellow staff know the challenge they face when cultivating a learning environment that works for everyone. However, these dedicated teachers also know that no matter what obstacles a student may face, each child can have the same opportunity to grow with the right support and conditions around them.
What makes Olaf perfectly suited for his role at the school is his superpower of gentle calmness that helps kids overcome a variety of different challenges. Whether students feel anxious, upset, distracted, or sad, Olaf’s presence can practically make those feelings disappear the very instant an outstretched hand meets his fluffy fur. With his intuitive senses and loving demeanor, Olaf provides many students at Salk the opportunity to learn new ways of coping with daily struggles. He also enables teachers like Mary to create a positive environment that works for all of her students no matter their needs, which ultimately helps shape these young lives for the better.
Mary shares, “Olaf offers so many opportunities to our students. From taking movement breaks and learning to care for an animal to learning the soothing comfort of having a loving, gentle fur friend. He truly is a superpower dog.”
Just as Olaf’s superpowers attract the attention of happy students each day he roams the school, word has begun to spread to other districts about his amazing impact. But despite how endeared Olaf has become to Salk Middle School, most other schools don’t have a therapy dog, and many students with learning challenges don’t experience the same calm and comfort that Olaf creates.
In order to help build awareness for our amazing furry friends like Olaf, the IMAX giant screen adventure film, Superpower Dogs is spreading our mission to raise awareness for the working dog community, support the next generation of canine heroes and help make sure that there is a working dog available for everyone in need.
Superpower Dogs is a giant screen adventure film in the making, scheduled to debut at the California Science Museum in 2018, about dogs that save lives, lift spirits and make our world a better place. Thank you Olaf for helping the students of Salk Middle School learn and grow with your super powers!
Salk Middle School
Photograph by Meet Olaf – Salk Middle School’s Therapy Dog for Students
Coming to IMAX® and Giant Screen Theatres March 2019