Zachary Oren Smith at Muscatine Journal
Kelli Bender
November 17, 2017 04:58 PM

There have been emotional support ducks and squirrels, but this may be our first therapy pig.

The adorable owner of this title is Frankie, a bow-donning piglet that recently started soothing students at Franklin Elementary School in Muscatine, Iowa, reports the Muscatine Journal.

“I think she is really adding to the room,” special education teacher Trina Hepker told the paper. “I think she is really going to help some kids.”

The teacher has already seen positive changes in some of her students since Frankie’s recent arrival from a Des Moines farm.

Before Frankie’s appearance, third-grader Isaac Gbalea was shy and had a hard time sitting down and reading with the rest of the class.

Now, he can be found quietly sitting in class reading to the pig, which is exactly the effect Hepker was hoping for.

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“When she approached me about a therapy pig, I thought, ‘What are you thinking?’ ” Principal Jason Wester said of Hepker’s plan. “But then she showed me the research behind it, and how it would impact student learning and how it would impact student relationships. How it could make school a successful adventure for them.”

Zachary Oren Smith at Muscatine Journal

Frankie helps students stay calm, keeping them focused on what Hepker and others are teaching.

“Sometimes when a student is getting frustrated all of a sudden that person needs 15 minutes to read to that animal,” Wester said. “That is much better than having a student be out of instructional control for two hours to try and calm themselves down. We look at this as a tool to get students back in instructional control and ready to learn.”

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Hepker has noticed that Frankie also gives her special education students a renewed excitement about coming to school each day.

“On a daily basis, they are feeding her and watering her. They’re getting the droppings. They’re making her bed,” Hepker said. “It’s a reason to come to school. I try and really incorporate Frankie into our day.”

And when the students care for Frankie, she cares for them in return, offering them an unbiased, empathetic ear to their issues.

“You can trust the pig. It’s okay to be upset. It’s okay to want to vent. I feel because she is real — unlike a stuffed animal — that they will be more likely to talk to her,” Hepker said about one of the countless ways this little therapy pig is making a big difference.

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