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Off the Beat: ‘Miss Pie’ perks up start of school in Northampton

  • Northampton Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Barbara Black and her dog "Pie" greet Ferdinand Schmalzer in Jen Busone's kindergarten class at Bridge Street School on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Northampton Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Barbara Black and her dog "Pie" greet Ferdinand Schmalzer in Jen Busone's kindergarten class at Bridge Street School on Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Northampton Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Barbara Black and her dog "Pie" greet Ferdinand Schmalzer in Jen Busone's kindergarten class at Bridge Street School on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Northampton Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Barbara Black and her dog "Pie" greet Ferdinand Schmalzer in Jen Busone's kindergarten class at Bridge Street School on Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Northampton Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Barbara Black and her new seeing eye dog, "Pie", work out of her office at Bridge Street School on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Northampton Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Barbara Black and her new seeing eye dog, "Pie", work out of her office at Bridge Street School on Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • "Pie" is Northampton Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Barbara Black's new seeing eye dog.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    "Pie" is Northampton Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Barbara Black's new seeing eye dog.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • "Pie" is Northampton Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Barbara Black's new seeing eye dog.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    "Pie" is Northampton Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Barbara Black's new seeing eye dog.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Northampton Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Barbara Black and her dog "Pie" greet Dominiq Sanchez, 5, in Jen Busone's kindergarten class at Bridge Street School on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Northampton Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Barbara Black and her dog "Pie" greet Dominiq Sanchez, 5, in Jen Busone's kindergarten class at Bridge Street School on Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Northampton Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Barbara Black and her seeing eye dog, "Pie", greet Ran Wade in Jen Busone's kindergarten class at Bridge Street School on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Northampton Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Barbara Black and her seeing eye dog, "Pie", greet Ran Wade in Jen Busone's kindergarten class at Bridge Street School on Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Northampton Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Barbara Black and her dog "Pie" greet Ferdinand Schmalzer in Jen Busone's kindergarten class at Bridge Street School on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Northampton Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Barbara Black and her dog "Pie" greet Ferdinand Schmalzer in Jen Busone's kindergarten class at Bridge Street School on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Northampton Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Barbara Black and her new seeing eye dog, "Pie", work out of her office at Bridge Street School on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • "Pie" is Northampton Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Barbara Black's new seeing eye dog.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • "Pie" is Northampton Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Barbara Black's new seeing eye dog.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Northampton Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Barbara Black and her dog "Pie" greet Dominiq Sanchez, 5, in Jen Busone's kindergarten class at Bridge Street School on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Northampton Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Barbara Black and her seeing eye dog, "Pie", greet Ran Wade in Jen Busone's kindergarten class at Bridge Street School on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

NORTHAMPTON — Among the many new faces greeting students in the Northampton schools this year is a furry one.

For more than a month, Miss Pie, a 2-year-old guide dog from New Jersey, has been finding her way around Bridge Street School, her home base. Pie, as she is known (hint: her private full name is based on a common endearment), belongs to Barbara Black, the city’s longtime early childhood coordinator. Black has been blind for more than a decade due to a degenerative retinal condition that was discovered when she was in her 20s.

A brown-eyed Labrador-Golden retriever mix, Pie is the fourth guide dog Black has owned in the 21 years she’s been head of early childhood programs for Northampton — and the first of a breed other than German Shepherd.

Pie is smaller than Mr. T., whom Black had for more than a decade before he retired, weighing 48 pounds to Mr. T.’s nearly 80. But “she’s a very quick study. And she’s adorable,” Black said. “She knows all of my routes.”

On Monday, Pie was helping Black welcome kindergarteners on their first day of school at Bridge Street. In Jennifer Busone’s classroom, the dog watched intently as students worked with blocks and Play-Doh and played games at activity stations around the room. Pie stayed close to Black, occasionally sticking her nose out for a quick sniff of whatever was happening nearby.

“She helps me see where I’m going because I can’t see,” Black explained to Dominiq Sanchez, 5, as he eyed Pie from a careful distance. “She comes to school because she has a job.”

Pie was trained at The Seeing Eye in Morristown, N.J., billed on its website as the oldest guide dog school in the world. The nonprofit also raises funds to provide working dogs to people who need them. Black estimates it costs in the neighborhood of $60,000 to breed, train and place a guide dog.

While they’re working, people should avoid petting guide dogs or talking to them so they don’t break concentration, Black said. “I tell the students when she has her harness on, you can’t talk to her because it distracts her,” she added. “And then I ask if they know what distract means.”

Is that a hard lesson for children to learn, especially with a cute, young dog like Pie?

“It’s actually a lot harder for the grownups,” Black said, with a smile.

•••

Welcome back

Leeds School is hosting a Welcome Back Picnic for school families at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday on the school playground. Families are invited to pack a picnic and come by the playground to meet new Principal Sal Canata, formerly a longtime associate principal at JFK Middle School. For details, call the main office at Leeds, 587-1530.

•••

Kickball!

Jackson Street School will hold an adults-only Kickball Tournament at 2 p.m. Sunday at the school as a fundraiser for the 5th grade Nature’s Classroom field trip. The entry deadline is Friday and the roster is limited to eight teams. Pizza and beverages will be sold at the tournament. To volunteer as a scorekeeper, or for questions about the event, contact Laura Fallon, 586-5265, or Greg Malynoski, 588-4314.

•••

PTO to meet

The Northampton High School Parent Teacher Organization will hold its first meeting of the school year Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the high school library. School parents Ruth Ever and Carrie Goldstein are this year’s co-chairs. The PTO raises funds for classroom supplies, field trips and other high school needs. For detailed information about PTO activities and events, visit ptonhs.norhtampton-k12.us.

•••

Volunteers sought

Volunteers in Northampton Schools, a nonprofit that helps place volunteers in city school classrooms, will be holding an event Friday for new and returning volunteers from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Forbes Library Community Room. Anne Schlereth, VINS coordinator, will explain the program which is open to parents, grandparents and other community members. Most work a minimum of one hour per week under the supervision of a teacher, either in one-on-one situations with students or in small groups.

To RSVP, contact Schlereth at vinsvolunteer@gmail.com or 587-1332. Information about VINS is available online at vins.northampton-k12.us.

•••

BikeFest

The Northampton Cycling Club is hosting its annual BikeFest Sept. 21 in Look Park as a fundraiser for the Northampton Education Foundation and two other nonprofits. The rain-or-shine event includes five rides of various lengths, food, live music and entertainment. Registration fees range from $30 to $65. Forms are available online at bikefest.nohobikeclub.org. Participants wishing to support the education foundation should use the code “NEF” when asked how they learned about BikeFest on the registration form.

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