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Community Engagement: Glenwood Kindergarten Students Meet the K-9 Unit

By Stuart Phillips, CHCCS Communications Specialist

The four kindergarten classes at Glenwood Magnet Elementary School experienced an exciting departure from their standard PE class on December 8, when Chapel Hill Police Department K-9 Officer Jason Belcher and Belgian Shepherd K-9 Mando led a lesson on self-care and healthy living, motion and locomotor pathways and the role of community policing in Chapel Hill - all packed into 30 minutes! As an example of Community Engagement, a key priority of our 2027 Strategic Plan: Think (and Act) Differently, as well as interactive and joyful instruction in safety and wellness, it doesn’t get much better than that!

The project evolved from a curriculum goal of creating a collaborative STEAM lesson for kindergarten students in their PE classes, with basic principles in physics fulfilling the “S” for science and “E” for engineering in STEAM. But the learning went far beyond the standards-aligned activities on Force and Motion, and included a review of position words (behind, over, under, beside) and locomotor vocabulary (zigzag, straight, curve) in the exploration of a simple obstacle course laid out in the gym. 

gators obstacle course

PE Teacher, Dianne Vetter, who led the lesson development, said, "Events such as this engage students and enable them to build relationships with members of our community at large. In addition, collaborative efforts between classroom and Specials teachers allow us to teach STEAM concepts in diverse settings, which reinforce and deepen student learning."

At the beginning of each session, Officer Belcher came into the gym and explained to the children how Mando would be introduced. He took time to prepare the children for their canine guest, and teachers sat nearby for reassurance. Officer Belcher would then leave the gym and return with a very large, furry dog. Some children seemed ready to rush forward and hug Mando, while others scooted back or leaned into their teachers. But as soon as Officer Belcher and Mando began their demonstration, all of the children were transfixed.  Mando on obstacle course

Belcher showed how Mando responds to commands and how he “sees” more with his nose than with his eyes. He hid a toy behind a cone in the obstacle course, and students watched as Mando sniffed his way to the object quickly, weaving his way through the cones. Upon completing his task, Mando lay down and put his nose over the toy, which is what he does when he finds potential evidence or a lost object.

Divided into small groups, the children then took their turns running, jumping and log-rolling through the course while Belcher and Mando watched from the sideline. 

When all of the children had finished the activity, they resumed their seats on the floor to hear Officer Belcher describe the healthy eating, sleeping and exercise habits he and Mando both follow. Students learned that Mando tires very quickly because he is trained to breathe only through his nose when he is searching. Belcher explained that he and Mando must both be conditioned to the point where they can run together quickly when they are pursuing someone. The children learned Mando is a student just like them as he participates in “continuing education” agility trainings every month!                                                              Gator leaps

Principal Intern Jonathan Howes said, “Any time we can have students make connections from the classroom to the real world is a valuable experience. I'm so proud of the staff at Glenwood for their collaboration and teamwork in making opportunities like this possible.”

As the lesson came to a close, children were invited to pet Mando, and almost every child joined in the lovefest, stroking his head and back, while the dog remained almost motionless. 

Petting Mando

“I have been able to take part in several of these demonstrations over the years and I always enjoy each one I do,” said Officer Belcher. “If I could sum up our experience and the reason that we do these demonstrations, I would say this: Mando and I enjoy each interaction with the community that we serve. The importance of creating positive interactions between officers and community members is invaluable. The fact that I get to use K-9 Mando to create a positive experience with a young child while explaining my role as a police officer in Chapel Hill is something that I am extremely proud of. I greatly appreciate each opportunity that Mando and I get to make someone smile!”

And smile those kindergarten Gators did! Thank you to the CHPD for sharing Officer Belcher and Mando! 

The Chapel Hill Police Department Canine (K-9) Team has been in existence since 1990. All of the dogs are trained to detect the smell of narcotics and assist with searches for lost people and fleeing suspects. Mando joined the K-9 Team from Poland and is trained by Officer Belcher.

CHCCS District Headlines stories are written on a regular basis by the CHCCS Division of Communications, with assistance from a network of school-based “storytellers” who share tips and ideas throughout the school year. The goal is to share real-world examples of the CHCCS Strategic Plan in action. Know about a story worth telling from your school? Contact the CHCCS Communications team at