Henry Viscardi School has ‘Sunny’ addition to staff

Adryana Navarro, a student at the Henry Viscardi School at the Viscardi Center, said that the school's first staff dog Sunny has had a positive influence on her performance during physical therapy sessions. (Photo courtesy of the Viscardi Center.)

The Henry Viscardi School in Albertson welcomed its new furry, four-legged staff member, Sunny, and celebrated his impact on students last Wednesday.

Adryana Navarro, a fourth-grade student at the school, said Sunny has helped her feel motivated and confident during physical therapy sessions.

“Whenever I was in the hospital I always felt better when therapy dogs came to visit. When Sunny came to our school I instantly fell in love with him,” Adryana said during a speech Wednesday. “Every day when I go to school I can’t wait to see him.”

Adryana said her goal in physical therapy is to improve her endurance, speed and efficiency while using her manual wheelchair in school. She said that when Sunny is around he makes her feel calm, relaxed and happy.

Sunny’s impact on Adryana’s life was also highlighted by the Viscardi School’s staff. Kaitlyn Clarke, a physical therapist for the school, said Adryana is completing more laps while on the track with Sunny.

“On a normal day, it takes Adryana four minutes to propel her wheelchair one lap around the track. With the motivation of Sunny, Adryana completed four laps around the track, with her fastest lap completed in three minutes,” Clarke said. “When walking with Sunny, Adryana completed more laps, and at a faster pace.”

Sunny, a yellow Labrador retriever trained by the Guide Dog Foundation, became the first and only permanent facility dog at the Henry Viscardi School at the Viscardi Center, which serves children with severe physical disabilities who may require consistent, life-sustaining medical treatment, school spokeswoman Emily Demarest said.

“When kids are comfortable, they learn better,”  Angelo Zegarelli, the Henry Viscardi School’s head, said in a statement. “As part of our social-emotional learning curriculum, Sunny helps our students get acclimated to their environment and manage their stress levels throughout the day.”

Dina Levanti, instructional technology specialist at the Henry Viscardi School, is Sunny’s handler at the school. Adryana thanked Levanti and the Guide Dog Foundation for bringing Sunny into her life.

“I am truly thankful to the Guide Dog Foundation for giving us the best gift ever and we promise to take the best care of him,” Adryana said. “I would also like to thank Ms. Dina for giving me the opportunity to spend time with Sunny. I’m sure Ms. Dina is giving Sunny the most loving home possible.”

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Tom McCarthy

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