Pennsylvania School Goes To The Dogs – In A Good WayThe Hill Top Academy is a Lab school, but not the kind of lab school associated with a college education department. The Labs are Labrador retriever (plus one golden retriever) service dogs that help children deal with emotional and behavioral issues that stand in the way of their classroom performance.

AlertSeats™ are also among the accommodations available to all the students with special needs served by the Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, school.

The eight dogs at Hill Top are in classrooms with the students throughout the school day, according to Dr. Tracy Geist, a social worker with the Capital Area Intermediate Unit which operates Hill Top Academy. Geist created and now supervises the therapy dog program at the school.

“They help maintain the emotional level of the classroom,” she said.


Therapy dogs are part of a full range of services at Hill Top Academy for students whose educational and emotional issues would make it difficult to thrive in a regular school. Three of the dogs, Gracie, Stanley and Chamberlain, are here with Occupational Therapist Sue West and a student.
Sitting with a therapy dog helps students to focus. On an AlertSeat™ with Chamberlain on his lap, a student at Hill Top Academy receives the sensory and emotional support that he needs to learn.
Each therapy dog is a calming and reassuring presence in the classroom; one that isnon-judgmental and always available.

They also help the educational performance of some students. “Many of the kids say that sitting with a dog helps them to focus,” Geist said. An example she cites is a student who refuses to read out loud in front of the whole class. “He will read aloud to the dog,” she noted.

Susan West is an occupational therapist at the school who uses the school’s therapy dogs when she works with certain children, said that students who are having an emotionally hard time are often calmed by a dog.

Hill Top Academy has a full range of services for students whose educational and emotional issues would make it difficult to thrive in a traditional school. In addition to special education teachers, a social worker and occupational therapist, the staff includes a psychologist, speech therapist and behavioral specialist. In support of its educational mission, the school also includes a therapeutic emotional support program.

AlertSeats™ are used in every classroom at Hill Top Academy. With 100 students in the school, classrooms are equipped with 23 AlertSeats™ with more on order.

Like the dogs that help regulate the emotional atmosphere for children, AlertSeats™ help to direct energy that might otherwise disrupt the classroom. Of the AlertSeats™, Susan West said, “I’ve seen huge success with students I’ve used them with.”

Geist has offered to share her research and experience with therapy dogs in a special school environment to the readers of this article. You can contact her at

To learn how schools like the Hill Top Academy use AlertSeat™ in special education classrooms, visit our website at and select Product Reviews and Articles.

Want to keep up with Hill Top’s therapy dogs? Visit them on Facebook at

Share →