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Riley Institute Announces Award Winner

Richard W. Riley (center) presented the award to the Healing Species program.

A program using rescue dogs to teach compassion to students in high poverty, high risk schools in South Carolina has won the 2016 Dick and Tunky Riley WhatWorksSC Award for Excellence.

Furman University’s Riley Institute and South Carolina Future Minds presented the award to Healing Species Friday, Oct. 14 during the WhatWorksSC luncheon in Columbia.  Former U.S. Secretary of Education and South Carolina Governor Dick Riley presented the award, which highlights innovative educational initiatives throughout the state.

Healing Species, based in Orangeburg, was founded by USC School of Law graduate Cheri Thompson in 2000 when she noted a link between violence toward animals and violent crime in society. The program is an innovative, 11-lesson compassion education curriculum implemented throughout school systems and youth facilities.

Using rescue dogs, the initiative changes students’ lives by teaching compassion and by intercepting and preventing violence and bullying. The program reports a 72 percent drop in student discipline referrals among participating students.

As the top award recipient, Healing Species received $5,000 to support its ability to share its story and continue to expand throughout South Carolina. In addition, $1000 was awarded to each of the two finalists—Engaging Creative Minds, which improves learning and inspires creativity by integrating arts into the school curriculum in four counties and 29 schools in South Carolina; and PULSE, a comprehensive scholastic excellence program in Hartsville, managed by the TEACH Foundation.

A panel of judges not affiliated with the Riley Institute selected the three finalists from the more than 100 entries in the Riley Institute’s WhatWorksSC clearinghouse, an online tool that showcases initiatives that explore and exemplify key strategies for improving South Carolina’s public schools.

The Dick and Tunky Riley WhatWorksSC Award is dedicated to the memory of Ann “Tunky” Riley, a devoted teacher and passionate advocate for quality public education for all children.

The award presentation was sponsored by the South Carolina Association of School Administrators (SCASA), the South Carolina School Boards Association (SCSBA), South Carolina PTA and South Carolina ETV.

Videos about the Healing Species program, Engaging Creative Minds, and the PULSE program can be found online here.

For more information about the WhatWorksSC Award and the WhatWorksSC clearinghouse, contact the Riley Institute at 864-294-3546 or email

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