SCHOOLS | October 31, 2018
Principal Joshua Long walks down the hall with Louie, the school’s miniature goldendoodle. Louie is only a few steps ahead of Long, constantly looking back to make sure he hasn’t walked too far. Louie, six-years-old, works a full day like the rest of the faculty and staff at the West Englewood school. He’s their therapy dog, providing a calming effect for students who may be experiencing a bad day or who have behavior disorders, Long explained.
“Louie has a Monday through Friday job here at Southside so he starts his day coming in with me in the morning, and he goes home with me at night,” he said.
Southside Occupational Academy is a transition center for students ages 16-22 with disorders. While there, students are provided with educational training opportunities that help them learn to function independently. They are also provided with social learning, vocational and applied academics.
“When you think about Louie, there aren’t too many other schools that are as fortunate as we are to have a dog that’s on staff,” said Long, who brought Louie on board as a puppy.
His role is to help students become more independent and he does a great job, Long said.
“When Louie is outside on our lovely campus, students walk him around,” he said. “They learn the skills of how to walk a dog, and when he uses the bathroom, they learn how to clean it up. We’re teaching our students skills that help them become independent.”
Louie’s presence fulfills two roles for students, Long said.
“He’s good at sitting next to students, calming them down, and allowing them to pet him,” Long said.
“We have some students who haven’t had the best experience with dogs, but with Louie they’re able to bond. This makes them more comfortable being around animals and independent.”
One of the most rewarding things about working at Southside Occupational, Long shared, is seeing students grow independently.
“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to see each and every one of my students grow,” he said. “Growth looks different across the board, and so we may have a student, who after being here, now knows how to make their bed, or a sandwich. Something we take for granted, or just assume that everybody knows how to do.”
Long, a father of four, just began his ninth year as the school’s principal. He said that a career in education was always the plan for him.
“I’ve wanted to be in education my entire life, all the way back to when I was in grammar school,” he said, adding that he started out as a speech language pathologist with the district in 2000.
Before coming to Southside Occupational, he worked in schools located in communities like Austin, Cabrini Green, Englewood and Chatham.
“I knew after seeing students in schools all across the city that I wanted to work to affect change at a higher level, which is then why I went back to school to become a principal,” said Long.
“And after a few years of being within the Chicago Public School system, I really wanted to dedicate myself to making lives of individuals with special needs better, which is what brought me here.”
CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson’s initiative to address equity is one Long said he fully supports.
“I can’t agree more with Dr. Jackson in terms of her message of equity for all,” he said.
The school has seen an increase in enrollment since opening a second campus in the South Loop, Long said.
“If you take a look at the trends and growth that students have made across the district, our students are also included in that,” he said. “While they might not be the ones going to college, what we’re doing is, we’re allowing them to make gains in their skills toward independence. This is actually allowing them to have better and more fulfilled lives once they move on from the public school setting.”
He and his team have the same mission and continue to create a supportive environment for students.
“The one thing we all have in common is that we have a deep love for our students,” Long said. “It’s really created a beautiful culture and we’re all here for the same purpose, to see our students grow.”