Aim High Reach for.....Sky!
In 2020, the school like the rest of the country was placed in a dark place with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The community rallied and the whole school went on line. There were several lockdowns from March 2020. Despite the incredible work from staff, parents and carers and all connected to the school the impact was felt by everyone. In March 2021 we are still feeling the impact and finding our way to support, educate and nurture our children and families.
Academically the staff were ready to take on the burden of ensuring the children made progress and achieved as well as they possibly could. Catch up programs were instigated, additional staff were invested in for the summer term 2021.
Socially and emotionally we knew that we would have to invest a lot more time and effort to ensure that the children were in the right place to work and perform to their very best potential. We have a dedicated pastoral team including county leading SENCO and trained ELSA's delivering support where needed throughout the school. We thought outside the box and have introduced a new member to the school staff team-our school wellbeing dog, Sky.
This was not a decision that we took lightly and without careful thought. We took into account the use of dogs in other school settings, the impact that looking after and caring for animals has on school communities. In summary, academic research has shown that dogs working and helping in the school environment can achieve the following:-
1) Improve academic achievement
2) Increase literacy skills
3) Calming behaviours
4) Increase social skills and self-esteem
5) Increase confidence
6) Teach responsibility and respect to all life
7) Help prevent lateness/difficulty coming into school/truancy
8) Motivate children who are often less attentive
We took time to find the right size of dog, breed and temperament. We met Sky's parents and waited for the litter to be born. Sky was one of a litter of four puppies from the nearby Courteenhall estate. The school has a special relationship with the estate as both are working hard to bring environmental understanding and sustainability learning to life with our young learners. We took ownership of Sky in September and from 8 weeks Sky began his training and acclimatising to the school community. He has a distinct role to play that is always supervised and carefully managed. He works with children who need to spend time settling and nurturing. He has a beautiful, calm nature and will sit with children who need his calming influence and support them being in school. He has been used as a reward and as an incentive for behaviour and attendance. He sleeps for most of the day and is available for those who need him. In a very short period of time, he has become part of the team and is loved by both children and adults alike. He has made a difference, far greater than we imagined and the initial worries about having a dog on site soon disappeared when we saw the almost immediate impact upon the whole community.
Here, writing this in March 2021, Sky is definitely part of the Roade Family and a useful member of staff to help support children and staff through the difficult times coming out of the COVID-19 darkness.
Here is a message from Chloe, who spends time with Sky....
The following information has been taken from a range of sources to provide further detail about the benefits of having a dog in school:
In some schools, dogs are making a difference in the behaviour of pupils. Researchers report that students can identify with animals, and with empathy for the dog, can better understand how classmates may feel. It was found that violent behaviour in participating students declined by 55%, and general aggression went down 62%. Behaviour problems occur in school and these can interfere with learning. Some schools are using dogs to improve behaviour problems by promoting positive behaviour in students. In a controlled study, students were found to have fewer disciplinary referrals in schools with a dog than schools without. Students’ behaviour improved toward teachers, and students also showed more confidence and responsibility. Additionally, parents reported that children seemed more interested in school as a result of having a dog at school.
Case study: Mandy was a student with poor attendance and truancy. Mandy was encouraged back into school using caring for River, a dog, as an incentive. By telling Mandy that “if she didn’t come to school to care for him, he wouldn’t get walks, water or love,” Mandy came to school almost every day for the rest of the year, only missing two days.
Reading programs with dogs are doing wonders for some students. Children who might be embarrassed to read aloud to the class or even adults are likely to be less scared to read to a dog. “It might be less stressful for a child to read aloud to a dog than to a teacher or a peer. After all, a dog won’t judge or correct you.” Dogs are used to encourage struggling readers to practise reading aloud. With the presence of a “calm and well-trained dog,” students find social support and peer interaction.
Dogs are incredibly calm and happy to have children read to them, (if accompanied by one of the responsible adults-never alone) or they can join a group of children in the library whilst they are having a book reading session. Dogs give unconditional acceptance, as they are non-judgmental, which is especially crucial to struggling, emerging readers. The dogs also provide confidence to children as they do not make fun of them when they read, but above all they make amazing listeners, providing the children with a sense of comfort and love. Research has proved that students who read to dogs show an increase in reading levels, word recognition, a higher desire to read and write, and an increase in intra and interpersonal skills among the students they mix with.
Dogs in school offer an opportunity for improving social development. They are especially useful for teaching students social skills and responsibility. Specifically, schools are using dogs to help older students build self-esteem; learn about positive and negative reinforcement, responsibility, and boundaries. Older students use dogs to help communicate, teach kindness, and empower students.
With a dog in school, students have the opportunity to learn how to care for the animal. This includes walking and grooming. Researchers report that involving students in the daily care of classroom dogs is a positive experience, promoting their own daily care. The students also learn about responsibility, caring, and sharing when helping each other take care of a dog at school.
As a reward:
Dogs will be gentle and loving, but at the same time full of fun and enjoyment for the students. Those students who have performed incredibly well during the week or those who have made progress in a certain subject, or those who have achieved tasks set for them, will be rewarded with spending time during lunch or break to interact with these dogs. Walking, grooming, playing and training are some of the responsibilities students will be allowed to undertake. It has been proved that working and playing with a dog improves children’s social skills and self-esteem.
Support Dogs can work with students on a one-one basis and will especially help those students who have been bullied, abused, going through upsetting/difficult times or even scared/phobic of dogs. The dog will bring much joy and help to all the students they meet and are happy to provide plenty of hugs to the students they are spending time with. Students who struggle with social interaction can find a reassuring friend in a dog.