When Stafford High School students flip through the yearbook for the first time, they get to page 220 and gasp with surprise, “It’s Alpha!”
Although Alpha goes to school every day like all the other students featured in the recently released yearbook, he is also a little different: Alpha is a service dog.
Alpha belongs to Andrew “AJ” Schalk, a 16-year-old junior at Stafford High who has Type 1 diabetes. The service dog alerts him when his blood sugar levels are too high or low by giving Schalk his paw.
“He lets me know my blood sugar is fluctuating through smell anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes before I even know anything is wrong,” Schalk said.
Grace Fuller, a 17-year-old junior who is on the yearbook staff, featured Alpha in a small profile in last year’s annual. As she sorted through this year’s student headshots, a photo of Alpha popped up and she knew it needed to be included.
“AJ has always talked about how much he liked having Alpha at school, and he is here all the time—we see him in class and in the hallways,” she said. “He is a part of this school now.”
A Stafford student tweeted about Alpha’s inclusion in the yearbook, and that post was shared thousands of times and prompted a Buzzfeed story on Wednesday that has been shared widely on social media.
Schalk started bringing his service dog to school with him last year. At first, he would take him only one day a week to get him acclimated to the new environment. Now, Alpha goes everywhere with him, including on the bus and to class.
When Alpha first started coming to school, Schalk observed many students turning their heads and saying, “Wait, is that a dog?” But, over the past few months, the unfamiliarity has faded, and most of the students recognize him now.
Schalk said everyone has been very accepting of having a service dog around the school. So, he wasn’t surprised when he and Fuller went to his teachers and school administrators with the idea to include his four-legged friend in the yearbook and they were all for it.