When a student is having trouble focusing, he's there.
When a student with special needs feels overwhelmed, he's there.
When a student is nervous about reading, he's there.
And he's especially there if you've got treats.
"He'll do anything for a treat," special education teacher Cody Ebersole said with a laugh.
When you're the only staff member in Northern Middle School who takes bathroom breaks outside, who doesn't have to make lesson plans and who happens to shake hands with a paw, it's hard not to be adorable.
That's Hershey -- the hardest working dog in Dillsburg.
Hershey, a chocolate Labrador retriever, is a trained facility dog who works with students to help ease anxiety and make them feel more comfortable in class.
Northern Middle got the 3-year-old as a puppy through United Disability Services. The district used grant money and a small amount of its own money to pay for the dog; the fee was about $20,000, which includes extensive training, Ebersole said.
Now Hershey is as much a part of Northern as the Polar Bear, except this mascot
works in the classroom.
"Just being there is more of a relaxing influence," said Ebersole, Hershey's handler.
Greeting students: Hershey spent Monday walking the halls with guidance counselor Arwa Bowman, who was helping with tours of fifth-graders checking out the building.
Each time Hershey and Bowman approached a group, Hershey would lie down and let the fifth-graders pet him.
Next year, they'll be able to see him all the time, which Bowman said can help them feel more at ease in the new setting.
She's also occasionally used Hershey in her office to help troubled students focus on petting the dog rather than their worries, which leads to the student's opening up.
Principal Sylvia Murray said she and the staff weren't sure at first how Hershey would do, especially since he was so young.
There were practical matters to address, she said, such as allergies. But no students have complained about his presence, she said, and one student with severe allergies simply makes sure not to pet Hershey.
More schools: Murray speculated some other districts that would otherwise love to have a facility dog might be scared at the idea of insurance costs.
But liability insurance hasn't been an exorbitant expense, Ebersole and Murray said. And student council helps raise funds to pay for treats and other expenses, Ebersole added.
Hershey stays with Ebersole, who uses him to help with students with special needs.
Student reaction: One of the special education students, Kara Houseman, has been around Hershey throughout her middle school years.
"When he plays with toys, it's really funny. When you're upset, it can make you laugh," said Kara, an eighth-grader.
Ebersole said Hershey is great with students who are struggling with reading because they can read to him.
"You have that non-judgmental factor," he said.
And there's the emotional support side, too. One time, an autistic student was having difficulty calming down despite a teacher's best efforts, and the student hunched down under a desk. Hershey was sent into the room.
"He knows in those situations not to get in the student's face," Murray said.
Within a short time, the student had relaxed, "de-escalated" and was petting Hershey.
"It's amazing how calmness sets in," Murray said.
Calmness has set in throughout her building, she added. Hershey helps teachers and students around the building smile.
"It has changed the atmosphere," Murray said.
Hershey, Northern York County School District's facility dog, was recognized by Shippensburg University School Study Council for being part of an "exemplary" program in schools. It marked the second year in a row Northern -- and Hershey -- received the distinction for having a creative, innovative school program.
Hershey primarily works out of Northern Middle School, helping both students with special needs and the entire student body, but he also visits all of Northern's schools and even goes on field trips.
-- Reach Andrew Shaw at 505-5431 or email@example.com, or on Twitter @ydblogwork