At certain times of the school year, especially at final exam time, you might find therapy dogs on the campus of Coral Gables High School.
They’re adorable, they’re cuddly, they shake hands if you ask them, but their best trick is the effect that they have on stressed-out students.
“They come here, they like play with the dogs, and they get that stress out and they have, like, a more clear mind,” said senior Rey Leon. “Once the dogs come, I see them differently, they change completely, I feel really, really happy when that happens.”
So when the kids are having a rough day, the dogs unleash their potential.
“So they do say, like, oh, got home, I felt super relaxed and all this stuff and they’re like, did their homework kind of thing, yeah, de-stress, you know?” said Jade Roman, a junior, describing the reactions she hears from students after they interact with the dogs.
Bringing the therapy dogs to school was Rey Leon’s idea. The senior partnered with Therapy Dog Teams Miami to periodically bring the furry friends to school.
“Everyone I go visit with the dogs, when I leave, they’re really really happy,” Rey said.
There’s no question the dogs have made an impact at Coral Gables High School, but there’s a lot more to Rey’s story than the canine contribution.
He arrived from Cuba at the end of 9th grade, speaking zero English and facing a huge learning curve. Now he’s taking three AP classes, earning straight A’s, and you might say Rey is the teacher’s pet.
“This is the type of kid that makes it all worth it for you to get up in the morning and come, and with all the other struggles you have as a teacher, you see this and you say, OK, it’s worth it, I’m doing something good,” said Lilia Sorendo, the school’s ESOL coordinator, who says Rey is “simply amazing.”
Rey’s friends say he sets an example that other kids emulate. Fellow senior Alain Perez says students say things like, “I wanna do that one day, like start a project here at Gables and do great things to make the community a better place, and definitely I think that’s what Rey’s doing now.”
Rey’s obviously a brilliant student, but it’s his relentless work ethic which will lead him to success. He works like, well, he works like a dog. Up late every night, studying and working on his English skills, that’s what Rey does.
“I want to help people, that’s my goal, help as much people as I can.”
He’s already walking the walk.