WILMINGTON — The first-graders at Ursuline Academy’s Lower School demonstrated the meaning of the school’s motto, “Serviam,” on March 24, presenting an organization that trains service dogs for the blind with a check for $368.
The students raised the money on their own both at their homes and by donations for a dress-down day at school.
Layla Adeleke said she earned her money by helping with the laundry and other chores at home.
“It was important to help the people who are blind,” she said.
The fundraising was part of the Serviam Project in the early childhood program and Lower School. Each grade is assigned a month in which it runs a service initiative “in order to create a sense of empathy for others and empower our children to see that they can make a difference,” the school said.
The first- through third-grade students took some time out of class to hear from Carroll Jackson, a field representative for Leader Dogs for the Blind. He and his dog, Hunter, travel the country explaining what service dogs do and why they are important. The Lions Club of Delaware, which works with Leader Dogs, sponsored the visit.
Jackson, who lives in Illinois, told the students he used to be a teacher, principal and superintendent. “All of my pupils were just like me. They couldn’t see a thing.”
Two of the biggest obstacles for the blind are communication and mobility, he said. When you are blind, you tend to rely on the other four senses. His students learned in which direction they were walking from feeling the sun on a certain side of their bodies, tapping a cane to detect objects or to listen for echoes, or by memory.
One of the ways they overcome those obstacles is with dogs like Hunter, who are trained extensively to help with tasks that most of us take for granted, like crossing a street or finding a chair. Jackson’s students were able to get a guide dog of their own when they turned 16.
“They could learn to use their dog when they were in high school,” he said.
The dogs start training as puppies and have a “career” that lasts eight to 10 years, Jackson said.
One thing that really impressed first-grader Leah Horgan about Hunter was that “he knows how to cross streets and knows when to stop.”
Leah said she made her bed, cleaned her room and shoveled snow to earn money to give to the Leader Dog program.
Jackson took a few questions from the students. One wanted to know why, if he was blind, he wore glasses.
“My wife says it makes me look more intelligent,” he joked. The real reason, he said, is that they make him more inconspicuous.
Hunter and other service dogs are found wherever people can go. He accompanies Jackson to restaurants and hotels, and “he’s been on 409 airplane flights.”
Throughout the presentation, Hunter appeared to be taking it all in stride, laying silently on the stage next to Jackson. The students learned that they should never pet a service dog. That was no problem for Layla.
“I’m allergic to dogs,” she said.