The Newest Classmate at Fremont Middle School

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FREMONT, Neb. -- To start the day, students in the Independent Living class at Fremont Middle School sit in a circle and give thanks. Many students in the class are thankful for their newest classmate: a dog named Winston.

While having a dog in school is still new in Fremont, Winston can win over a classroom easily. Seventh grade student Breeona TenEyck admits she was an early doubter.

"At first I thought it would take away from our learning – that it would just be about the dog. But I've realized it helps some of the kids get back on track. It's not just about school but about what we are and who we are,” said TenEyck.

The 7th grader decided to create a wall of Winston sightings. She said, "I wanted to do something so they would know Winston is important to our school."

Winston lives with Resource Teacher Anne Echtinaw. She knows that middle school is tough and that everyone could use a friend; even a four-legged one.

"Everyone needs an unconditional ear – a hug – a pet. And when I see other kids with dogs, I knew this is what needed to be here in this building – at this time," Echtinaw told WOWT 6 News. "I've seen some kids who don't talk or smile come and hug the dog and then start talking to him."

There is no doubt for TenEyck, Winston is a friend first.

"I don't look at Winston like a dog – I look at him like a friend. I feel he's someone to help us. He's here for a purpose and meaning," said TenEyck.

Research has shown that animals can help children develop better self-esteem and responsibility among other things.