Grade-schoolers doing online learning during the first year of the persisting COVID-19 pandemic got a boost from a Bernese mountain dog.

Frenzy, then a puppy, helped engage young students in the virtual classroom through YouTube, where Frenzy’s owner posted 35 videos from October 2020 to June 2021. Stacy Slade (’00 Busi., Mktg.) owns, trains, and breeds Bernese mountain dogs. She was already running the SitStay with Stacy Slade YouTube channel when her longtime friend, Seattle teacher Christine Lackie, approached her with the idea of a virtual class pet.

Stacy Slade stands in backyard with her daughter, husband, and Frenzy the dog
Stacy Slade and her family, including Frenzy the dog (Courtesy SitStay with Stacy Slade)

Lackie, who teaches second grade at Cedar Park Elementary School, came up with the idea in fall 2020⁠—after teaching remotely since March of that year⁠—in hopes of bringing joy to remote learning and helping boost student engagement.

“Students were so engaged⁠—laughing and watching intently as Stacy answered questions, taught the ins and outs of pet ownership, and shared all the new things Frenzy was learning,” Lackie says. “What was really powerful is how Stacy connected the way Frenzy was learning to the new things they were learning, and that learning takes time, love, positive reinforcement, and lots of practice. It’s amazing that something as simple as a class pet⁠—and a virtual one at that⁠—can give students such a deep connection to their own journey as learners.”

Students in three classes at Cedar Park⁠—and many others around the country⁠—tracked Frenzy’s growth, watched new tricks, and learned about the pup’s time spent playing with sibling Hazy and other canine friends. Students also sent in questions that Slade answered the following week. And, once a month, students participated in live, online demonstrations with Slade and Frenzy.

“It was a special project that involved many people and brought so many together in a fun way during a very trying and hard time in our lives,” says Slade, noting Frenzy got to meet many students in person during an outdoor event in a park last September.

Videos from last school year run about 10 minutes and are still available on YouTube for any teacher to use. But, Slade says, “Since Frenzy is pretty much full grown, and students are back in class, we haven’t been making new videos.”