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‘It changed our lives:’ Lambert High School opens community dog park on campus to support therapy dog program
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A student walks a therapy dog across the ramp of the agility course in the brand new Lambert Dog Park on Thursday, April 21, 2022. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

Residents recently gathered at Lambert High School along with the community’s most beloved pups, panting in excitement, to debut the Lambert Dog Park.

Assistant Principal Ashley Johnessee welcomed guests and district leaders into the new park, which is complete with an agility course that she said the students and teachers will be able to use to train the Lambert Pack of nine therapy dogs.

“We’re so excited to showcase the work our students have been doing and give you an opportunity to be the first people to visit our dog park,” Johnessee said.

Johnessee told the crowd about Lambert’s therapy dog program, which was first established in 2020 just before the start of the pandemic. Scot Rucker, owner of Rucker Dog Training, gave them the first dog, Duck, who found his home in Mary Nicolleti’s special education classroom.

Duck helped Nicolleti’s students in ways she and Johnessee never imagined. Not only did he help students to stay connected with the school through the pandemic and provide constant cuddles, love and support, but he offered the chance for students to learn new vocational skills.

Once the students came back to school, they started walking Duck through the hallways, giving him the chance to see other students, and taking him outside to train him and take him on walks.

Seeing the impact Duck had on these students, Johnessee said she knew this program needed to continue and grow.

“As we came back to school [in the pandemic], we went from three dogs during preplanning to six dogs by October,” Johnessee said. “Absolutely no question about the value that it is for our students and the community it’s building for them.”

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Lambert High School Principal Dr. Gary Davison holds up the ribbon at the Lambert Dog Park while a student cuts it, opening up the park to the community for the first time on Thursday, April 21, 2022. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

As the program continued to grow, Johnessee went to the Forsyth County Education Foundation several years ago with the idea to build a dog park on campus to allow further growth in the program. The foundation gave the school a grant to help get it started, and the school’s engineering students put up the fence and agility course that now makes up the park.

Johnessee announced that student Mandy Yang and the Youth Give Back Club at Lambert also donated a portion of a $10,000 prize from Star 94’s Give Back Giveaway awarded by Delta Community Credit Union in 2020.

Now, Johnessee said she is excited to see the park finally finished.

Principal Dr. Gary Davison and Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden helped one of Lambert’s students cut the ribbon, officially opening the park to the campus and community.

Following the ribbon-cutting, Nicolletti’s students gave a demonstration of the agility course, guiding their furry friends over a jump bar, over a ramp, through a tunnel and in and out of weave poles.

Rebecca Parker, assistant administrator and AP psychology teacher at Lambert, said the park will be limited to only students during the school day, but outside of school hours, it will be open to the public to bring their own dogs to socialize, play and learn the course themselves.

Lambert leaders said they are excited to see more little pups on campus as they continue to grow the park and develop more community partnerships.

“We hope you’ll continue to come and join us and connect with our kids because they are amazing humans, and they can do pretty much anything,” Johnessee said.

Before closing out the event, Nicoletti handed out goody bags to guests filled with tennis balls and “Duck Quackers,” dog treats made by her students. Since 2020, they have partnered with culinary arts to mix, bake, package and sell the treats to staff members in the school to teach students more about business and finance.

Through those two years, they have made $600 in profits, which they decided to donate to the Forsyth County Humane Society.

Following the event, Johnessee said Lambert Dog Park had its first official visitors from the current class of the Pups with Purpose program, which allows Forsyth County inmates to train and foster homeless or unwanted animals.

Lambert’s students and staff joined the program’s puppies at the park for snuggles and playtime, giving the little doggos the chance to socialize with unfamiliar people.

“We are so grateful for support from the Forsyth County Education Foundation, Delta Community's Giveback Giveaway, Scot Rucker with Rucker Dog Training, and the Pups with Purpose program for allowing us the opportunity to continue to grow possibilities for all students,” Johnessee said after the event. “We hope the smiles on our faces show you just how in love we are with this program.”

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Lambert High School Assistant Principal Ashley Johnessee speaks to the crowd at the opening of the Lambert Dog Park on Thursday, April 21, 2022. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
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Mary Nicolleti, a special education teacher at Lamber High School, stands alongside her classroom's therapy dog, Duck, at the opening of the Lambert Dog Park on Thursday, April 21. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
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The Lambert Dog Park is located on Lambert High School's campus and features an agility course that will help students learn vocational skills while spending time with playful pups. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
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Rebecca Parker, assistant administrator and AP Psychology teacher, said the Lambert Dog Park will be open to all community members after school hours. - photo by Sabrina Kerns