Each week the smell of apple sauce, oats and peanut butter drifts from Ashley Etris’ special education class at Sardis Enrichment School, as her students make tasty creations for local dogs.
Etris said the group of third, fourth and fifth graders began baking and selling the dog treats in late January as a way to not only learn relevant, functional skills, but engage with others in a positive way. After giving it their first go, the activity transformed into a weekly in-school shop known as “Pawsome Pets.”
“It was very rewarding to see the kids that had lacked a little motivation at the beginning of the year be excited to get up and be independent,” Etris said.
Jill Feldman, occupational therapist at Sardis, said the idea sparked during the pandemic when Etris’ class could no longer run their coffee cart for staff. While searching for ways to engage the kids while also limiting the spread of COVID-19, the idea of making dog treats came to mind.
The weekly operation involves following a recipe, measuring and mixing ingredients, cutting the dough and selling the product. Depending on the approaching holiday, the cookies can take on different shapes like hearts, clovers and other festive forms.
The goodies are placed into decorative bags that are hand-delivered by Etris’ students, with adult supervision, to staff. Once the kids make the treats, the cafeteria employees bake them.
Feldman said students are able to reap the fruits of their labor with special rewards like extra recess time. The money collected from sales goes back into purchasing ingredients and other essentials for the treats.
“I think the greatest part for me is just walking in and seeing the kids making these treats, they were engaged and excited,” Feldman said. “Their little eyes lit up.”
Feldman added that the elementary school’s staff members enjoy filming their dogs eating the treats to share with Etris’ class. She explained that the next goal for the dog treat shop is to eventually open it up to the cluster’s middle school, Chestatee Academy.
Ashley Hope, principal of Sardis, said Pawsome Pets makes for a meaningful learning experience. She noted that over the past year the elementary school’s teachers have been faced with a lot of challenges, but have tackled them with their creativity and critical thinking.
“I’m proud of them,” she said.