EFFINGHAM — Students at the Early Learning Center in Effingham were treated to a doggone good time as they celebrated their 101st day of school with a “101 Dalmatians” movie theme.

The youngsters were clad in black and white polka-dotted shirts, pants, hats, paper dog ears and face paint as they moved from one activity station to another. The “pups” even got to see a real canine as part of the day’s activities.

Effingham Police Officer Jake Lustig brought his K-9 companion, Kona, to the kindergarten center.

Lustig became a K-9 handler in 2011 with another police department before becoming an officer with the Effingham Police Department. He’s been with Effingham police for two years.

Kona is a relatively new member to the Effingham Police Department. The 2-year-old female Belgian Malinois was eager to show some of her skills while in front of the students-turned-pups.

Lustig explained to the young audience Kona is above all a tool and there to keep the community safe.

“These dogs are for work,” Lustig said. “They’re out there helping protect the police officers and helping protect everybody else out on the streets and in the community.”

The students watched excitedly as Lustig tossed a tennis ball across the gymnasium, and on Lustig’s signal, Kona chased after the ball and slid across the floor to nab it.

Lustig then took questions from the students, and several hands shot up in the air, waiting to be selected.

Student Keegan Stortzum asked if they were able to pet the K-9 officer, and much to Stortzum’s delight, the students got the chance to do just that. Lustig and Kona trotted alongside a line of the children as they all held out their hands to pet the K-9.

Lustig said his favorite part of bringing Kona to schools is to see the smiles on the students’ faces when Kona walks in the room.

“Everybody loves dogs, so the kids get excited whenever they see the dog come in. I just like seeing the kids excited to see the dog and interact with it a bit,” Lustig said.

Other activities for the 101st day of school included a Dalmatian movie, crafts, sing-a-longs and dancing. ELC teacher Michelle Slater said this is the second year the kindergartners celebrated the 101st day of school with the “101 Dalmatians” theme.

The celebrations are not over yet for the ELC students. The kindergartners will next enjoy Valentine’s Day classroom parties and activities on Friday.

Kaitlin Cordes can be reached at kaitlin.cordes@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151 ext. 132.

Kaitlin Cordes can be reached at kaitlin.cordes@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151 ext. 132.


Kaitlin Cordes covers Effingham County, police and courts and sports features for the Effingham Daily News. She earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University. Cordes is a native of Effingham.

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