Little paws, big impact: Teacher Tara Kesel and Service Dog Lyons leave their mark on LCSD, honored with 2021-22 Yearbook Dedication
AUGUST 16, 2022 — In the 19 years she’s been a teacher at Lyons Central School District, Tara Kesel has had six different four-legged friends follow her around in her social studies classes.
Most recently, it’s been Lyons — a black Labrador Retriever — who has been turning heads and stealing hearts in her classroom. He’s the latest puppy to come through the school with Mrs. Kesel as she trains him for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
“It’s a great bonding experience. The kids really get into it,” Mrs. Kesel said. “They like to see – ‘What’s the end goal?’ – and they’re very invested in the dogs.”
Mrs. Kesel’s efforts to make students feel connected to her volunteer work were celebrated this past school year, when the Class of 2022 dedicated their yearbook to her.
“Throughout the years, Mrs. Kesel has taught her students with knowledge, laughter and heart,” the dedication reads. “Mrs. Kesel’s patience and persistence has not only been appreciated by her students, but by her service dogs in training that have brought joy and comfort to everyone in the school.”
Mrs. Kesel has found great joy and pride in raising and training her seeing eye dogs at the district. One of the biggest perks has been bringing her students along for the journey, too.
“It’s an organization that we put a lot of time into. (It’s) a lot of volunteer work and a lot of effort,” Mrs. Kesel said. “It gives the kids a great experience of seeing what volunteer work can be. And it can be something that is so fun and so rewarding, and it can be something that they really enjoy.”
Mrs. Kesel is all too familiar with students referring to her as “the teacher with the dog in her classroom,” but she doesn’t mind the designation. If anything, it’s fun when former students reach out to ask her how the dogs are doing — or to mention they were inspired by her and have since started training their own service puppies.
At a pep rally in June, Mrs. Kesel was surprised by the senior class when they announced they had dedicated their yearbook to her. Her husband and children ran out onto the basketball court, lovingly thrusting flowers and balloons into her arms.
“It is such a blessing, honestly, to watch you guys grow from my seventh graders … and I watch you go out and you spread your wings and you fly the nest,” she said to the crowd. “Come back and visit. Because that’s the hardest part of being a teacher — it’s the letting go and having to say goodbye.”
There’s many parallels between raising guide dogs and teaching students, the biggest being that ultimate act of letting go. But for Mrs. Kesel, it’s a sacrifice she will happily continue to make.
“It’s so satisfying to be able to see the difference that it makes in somebody else’s life,” Mrs. Kesel said. “And that’s what it’s all about — making a difference for somebody else.”